It’s summertime, a gentler, calmer season when many people enjoy a reprieve from hectic weeknight dinners, Crock Pot cooking, and bulk grocery shopping. With an abundant harvest of fresh, local, seasonal food available between June and September, I ditched my monster truck-sized cart at Costco and headed to Northbrook’s Wednesday farmer’s market, which runs weekly from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 21 to October 11.
My morning mission was to select ingredients for my family’s still –yet- to- be-determined evening dinner. Having never shopped this particular market before, I was open to discovery; I had no preconceived menu, nor any specific vendors I intended to visit. As I moved from stall to stall, chatting amiably with bakers, farmers, butchers and fisherman, carefully selecting items that caught my eye, a simple summer meal began to take shape.
In the downtown Northbrook Cherry Street & Meadow Lane parking lot where roughly 22 vendors set up tents each Wednesday morning at sunrise, Eau Claire Michigan-based Sunny Harvest and Froehlich Farms’ proprietor, Kyle Froehlich, has pride of place right at the entrance.
Along with a stunning selection of cucumbers, lettuces, and berries, Froehlich was featuring greenhouse tomatoes. Still too early in the season for outdoor tomatoes, Froehlich’s hydroponically grown tomatoes are the Northbrook Farmer’s Market’s one concession to their strict rule that all produce be seasonal and sourced within a 150-mile radius. Froehlich’s other early summer offerings included rhubarb, fresh shelled peas and bushels of sweet and sour Michigan cherries, which I purchased with zucchini, summer squash and sweet candy onions.
“There’s a very short, two-week window each year for fresh peas,” said Froehlich. “The have a totally different flavor from frozen…I prefer to eat them raw, tossed in a salad.”
Next door at The Cheese People, I sampled a slice of the Chicago-based cheesemonger’s prized raspberry ale–soaked Bellavitano, described by its makers as “an Irish cheddar caught breakdancing with a young piece of asiago.” After the salesperson advised me that the Bellavitano would melt nicely when grated, I bought a large wedge, still unsure whether I would serve it as an appetizer with crackers, or incorporate it into my farmer’s market feast.
Nearby, The Aspiring Kitchen is the Northbrook Farmers Market’s only fish vendor, Bob DePalma, who lives in Lincoln Hills, Illinois, but sources his fish from all over the country. One of DePalma’s regular weekly customer’s is Wilmette resident Kathy Greene, who stocks up on his fresh fish each Wednesday.
“I am very careful where my fish comes from, “ said Greene. “Bob gets his supply from the most pristine lakes, and his homemade smoked dips are delicious.”
Regarding my dinner plans, the food savvy DePalma suggested I purchase his Lake Superior Trout, sold whole, but conveniently cleaned and deboned for customers. DePalma recommended I stuff the fish with sautéed vegetables and herbs and cook it on the grill or in the oven.
At the popular Katic Breads stand, where the day’s inventory routinely sells out within a few hours of opening, Aurora, Illinois-based owner Carissa Katic was down to her few remaining handmade loaves of bread and just a scattering of her husband’s legendary chocolate croissants, which melt in your mouth. I impulsively purchased a pastry and ate it for sustenance, and then scored Katic’s last Herbed Foccacia Bread to accompany my dinner.
The next stop was Farmer Nick’s, a small family farm on the Illinois-Wisconsin border supplying pasture-raised meat and eggs. I chose a pound of thick, fresh bacon, also available in maple, Cajun and other flavors. Because Farmer’s Nick’s bacon is never pumped with water, like grocery store bacon, it cooks in less than half the time, and I was cautioned by the friendly boyfriend and girlfriend duo manning the stall to control the heat when frying it.
As a last stop before heading home, I visited Homemade European Goodies, owned by Vesna, a former teacher turned baker, who sells beautifully presented old-world Serbian sweets, baked with recipes she learned by heart from her grandmother. In a remarkable display of self-discipline, I limited myself to purchasing only a tin of pistachio shortbread and a bundle of sugar-coated cookie sandwiches filled with vanilla cream.
After an hour of shopping, my arms were laden with fresh produce, meat, cheese and bread, and my head was full of plans for my very own Midwestern farm-to-table meal, sourced locally, and inspired by the food and vendors of the Northbrook Farmers Market.
My Northbrook Farmers Market Dinner Menu:
- Linguine Carbonara with fresh peas, pasture-raised bacon and grated Bellavitino cheese
- Grilled Lake Superior Trout stuffed with rosemary and sautéed summer squash, zucchini, and sweet candy onions
- Herbed Focaccia Bread
- Red Leaf Lettuce Salad with tomatoes and cucumbers
- Michigan sweet and sour cherry and rhubarb compote, vanilla ice cream and pistachio shortbread cookies
DailyNorthShore sent reporters to local farmers markets with an interesting assignment: what can you purchase to make a complete summertime dinner? The above story is Libby Elliott’s account of her recent shopping experience at the Northbrook Farmers Market.
The Northbrook Farmers Market is open Wednesdays June 21 to October 11 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of Cherry & Meadow Lane in downtown Northbrook.