Parsnippet Market offers bounty of fresh greens

“The world of agriculture is defined both practically and aesthetically by two poles: those farmers whose aim it is to grow the greatest possible amount of food at the lowest possible price, and those whose goal it is to grow the greatest quality of food no matter what it costs.”

Russ Parsons, How To Pick A Peach

It’s a dilemma: How do we choose our food and balance the demands of our palate against the reality of our checkbook? Should lowest possible price always be the yardstick by which we measure value? Does it matter where our food is raised or how far it has traveled to get to our plates? Is it important to us that we eat food that is seasonal versus exotic foods from faraway places? How about comfort, ease, efficiency, and economy? How do we balance these considerations against what we know to be healthy, wholesome, and sustainable practices?

And whose pocket do you want your food money to go into? Giant corporations that probably could get along just fine without your dollars, or local farmers whose livelihood very much depends on selling to the same community in which the food was raised?

Then there’s the freshness factor: the farther away something is grown, the longer time it will have spent being transported. A cross-country trek on the back of an 18-wheeler or in a railway car means diminished returns on freshness. Time takes its toll on your food, in taste as well as in nutrition. What is freshness worth?

But there’s good news. And it happens every Saturday morning at the Cortez Farmers Market on the corner of Main and Elm. Local farmers – people you know – get up early enough when most of us are still asleep, pick their produce, and transport it a few short miles into town where they present it to us fresh and crisp and bursting with flavor and nutrition. Out of the ground and on to your plate could be the motto of the Cortez Farmer’s Market.

We’re still in early summer, so the vendors are offering an abundance of early summer produce: rhubarb, snap peas, spinach, green beans, rainbow explosions of chard, herbs, a wide array of greens, scallions, even salad turnips. There is a salad green for every taste at the marketplace. Peppery arugula, spinach, mixed lettuces, soft purple and green butterhead lettuce. More substantial cooking greens such as the flat-leafed, ruffled, and curly kale and rainbow chard are also widely available; the ladies at the Garden of Weedin’ alone offer seven different kale varieties.

Garlic scallions and those cheeky pink and red radishes, so delicious when they’re young and tender, are offered at a few different stands. Bunches and bags of carrots are sprouting up too alongside the occasional fennel bulb. There was even a kohlrabi sighting last Saturday.

And while you’re at it, dress up your table with a spray of fresh flowers. Battle Rock Farms has sprigs of yarrow, larkspur, goldenrod and mint already arranged to take home. Flowers will appear more frequently and in greater abundance at the market as summer deepens.

One of the more colorful testimonials to the official advent of summer is rhubarb, second cousin to chard and celery. Plain and sturdy like its unglamorous name, it is a short-lived vegetable that can withstand cold, even snow, but hates heat, which causes it to bolt and go to seed. Rhubarb is treated as a fruit, which makes it perfect in pies and jams, especially when paired with in-season strawberries. You can find homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam at the Wilson Farms stand and at Mammy’s Jams. Shani at the Pie Maker stand will custom bake just about any pie you want, including strawberry-rhubarb topped with crusts made with organic butter and flour from the Cortez Mill. Half a dozen other stands offered both the red and green varieties raw and ready to cook up.

Rhubarb is a bit limited in its culinary scope because its tart and zingy flavor is enough to make any mouth pucker. And although biting into a raw stalk can make your whole face squinch, it can be heavenly when balanced with some sweetener.

I was looking for an easy summer rhubarb dessert recipe that didn’t heat up my kitchen and came up with this variation of rhubarb sauce transformed into a bright and heat-quenching sorbet which can be ready to eat in the time it takes to freeze. You can make this recipe with or without an ice cream maker. And because rhubarb has such an intense flavor, I find it helps when balanced against something with earthy undertones. A couple pieces of dark chocolate served up next to the crazy red of the sorbet makes a successful pairing. Or try it with a fresh baked brownie.

And speaking of chocolate, a new vendor is featured this year. Rose Russell, a local gal who recently returned to the area, has opened up Coco Rose, offering organic chocolate made with organic unrefined coconut oil and raw cacao, and pure maple syrup. Packaged in lovely brown boxes festooned with flowers, it is a delightful addition to the market.

In the weeks ahead, there will be pie cherries from at least one vendor and garlic scapes from another. Baby zucchini are also about ready to make an appearance along with plenty of green beans. All healthy affordable choices.

The Parsnippet and its roving paleate will be appearing biweekly throughout the summer. It is meant to tantalize and motivate you into joining the parade of locals who love to eat and who congregate every Saturday morning in the name of homegrown food.