Farmers markets feature the best of the fresh

May 18, 2018

If you're a fan of finding the freshest produce, you've likely noted the opening dates for our local farmers markets. Milton's market opened in April. Lewes, Milford and Rehoboth started in early May, while Georgetown and Nassau Valley Vineyards are scheduled for later this month. Farther south, the markets will open in June for residents and visitors in Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island and Sea Colony.

I visited the Historic Lewes Farmers Market last week and found a limited selection of produce because we're so early in the season. Butchers had their full line of products, as did the bakeries, oystermen, lavender ladies and prepared food vendors. Bouquets of cut flowers were in abundant and fragrant supply. Several growers had starter plants for your home garden: flowers, vegetable and herb seedlings, as well as hanging baskets.

The featured produce included those items available year-round (e.g., mushrooms and micro greens) as well as standard spring crops such as asparagus (both thick and thin), turnips, radishes, green onions (from slender to surprisingly chubby), strawberries and rhubarb. The last two items on the list make a winning combination for pie filling and look especially pretty under a lattice-weave top.

After we left the market, we were driving home on Kings Highway and stopped to investigate a riot of color outside the Brush Factory. Turns out we'd discovered another market, Rays Produce and Flowers. They had lots of bedding plants, floral baskets and potted succulents, but the best surprise for me was a stack of cardboard containers filled with fresh tomatoes (not shipped in from Mexico or gas-ripened in a warehouse).

Speaking with Emily Gofus, who runs the business with her husband, I learned that their produce and flowers are sourced from a wide range of growers. The tomatoes that caught my eye came from Florida, as did the baskets of citrus fruit. Her rhubarb didn't travel quite as far, and Emily commented that some of her suppliers have dedicated acres to grow specific crops for Rays.

In addition to both local and Florida produce, there were a few items you don't typically see in such fresh condition in any market: turmeric and ginger root. At the grocery stores, the bins of ginger are typically rotting from the spray mist intended for lettuce and other delicate items. The chunks of ginger root at Rays were unblemished and generously sized.

I'm embarrassed to confess that I'd never before seen fresh turmeric, only the powdered spice with a deep gold-orange color. A member of the ginger family, the rhizome or root of the turmeric plant resembles miniature pieces of ginger root, with a slightly darker skin and bright orange flesh. The flavor of fresh turmeric is pungent and slightly bitter, while its aroma is woody and faintly citrus.

Turmeric is used in curry powder, mustard, pickles and spicy chutneys. It's a great ingredient in a yogurt marinade for chicken breasts and adds a lovely color to rice pilaf or "golden milk." This colorful quality also leaves bright orange stains on your fingers and cutting board when peeling or chopping fresh turmeric, but the flavor is so much better than the duller powdered form.

If you sleep too late on a Saturday morning and the Historic Lewes Farmers Market has closed at noon, you can make your way to the Brush Factory on Kings for fresh produce from Rays.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie 

pastry for 2 pie crusts 
3 C sliced rhubarb 
1 lb strawberries, halved 
1/3 C brown sugar 
1/3 C sugar 
1/4 C cornstarch 
2 T orange juice 
pinch salt 
1 t cream 
1 t turbinado sugar 

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a pie pan with one of the crusts, leaving the edges to overhang the lip of the pan; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the fruit, sugars, cornstarch, juice and salt.

Toss gently to combine and pour into the crust-lined pie pan. If a lattice top is desired, cut the remaining crusts into strips and weave together before placing the top on the filling. Crimp edges together and brush top with cream. Dust with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 and continue baking another 35 minutes. Allow pie to rest for at least 1 hour before serving so the filling can firm up.

Turmeric Spiced Omelet 

4 eggs 
1/4 t salt 
1/4 t white pepper 
1-inch piece turmeric  
1 T olive oil 
1/4 t brown mustard seeds 

Whisk eggs, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl until smooth; set aside. Peel the turmeric; set aside. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium. Add mustard seeds and grate turmeric directly into the skillet. Cook for a minute, then pour in beaten eggs. Use a spatula to pull back the cooked edges of the egg into the center of the pan, allowing the uncooked egg to flow out. Continue stirring with the spatula until eggs are still moist but not runny. Yield: 2 servings. Optional additions: diced sundried tomato, caramelized onions, sautéed spinach.

Turmeric Rice 

2 t olive oil 
1/2 C diced onion 
1 C brown rice 
1/3 C golden raisins 
1 t grated fresh turmeric 
2 grated garlic cloves 
2 1/3 C vegetable broth 
salt & pepper, to taste  

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice, raisins, turmeric and garlic. Sauté gently until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Yield: 4 servings.

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