The farmers markets of summer get all the glory, but pound for pound, the winter markets have more guts. These off-season centers of homegrown commerce, which run from about Halloween through Easter, are like the distilled essence of their summer counterparts, smaller but more potent. Cuter — with more hot cocoa on tap.
In addition to offering locavores something to do, and eat, during winter, these events also give farmers and other food crafters the chance to make a little money. Each week, the patrons make the rounds, like a secret society for the extra-cheerful and well-fed. Those who know about the winter market show up while the rest of the world sleeps. Or eats brunch. Or watches cartoons.
My local winter market, which takes place in the Missoula Senior Center on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., is flush with the kind of cold-weather crops a homesteader would survive the winter on, like potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, bacon, pickles, cheese, and, if you get there early enough, eggs. And there are the comforts: baked goods galore, hot sauce, kombucha, kale chips, coffee imported and roasted by an up-and-coming roaster, and really good music.
And thanks to advances in cold-weather horticulture, and with a little help from a warming climate, there are now summery foods available, too. Greens in particular, like spinach, tatsoi, arugula, broccoli, kale and many types of cabbage. These greens, planted during the dog days of summer, came of age in cooler, shorter days. Under these conditions, plants build themselves differently. They are smaller but sturdier, denser and crunchier. Maybe it's the bleak context in which they appear, but winter greens emanate a vitality that you can see and taste. More concretely, they are also full of fiber and vitamins and sunny green molecules of which your body is in short supply in these days of winter.
Wherever you are, you can probably find a winter market. According to LocalHarvest.org, there are about 1,900 winter markets nationwide, compared with about 4,700 summer markets. The site, which provides online tools to help farmers thrive, recently added a winter market search feature, so shoppers can easily find the winter market closest to them.
I will leave you with three recipes to help you enjoy the winter greens in season today. These dressings will also benefit many non-green crops of winter too, like radishes or cauliflower. And when the time comes, they will help us enjoy the bounty of summer.
Crazy Mountain blue cheese dressing
Our first recipe comes from Cheryl Marchi, proprietress of the Crazy Mountain Inn. This 117 year-old boarding house in Martinsdale once sheltered Calamity Jane, according to a rumor overheard in the hot pools of nearby White Sulphur Springs.
The living room boasts a burley wood stove that warms that room like a winter market warms a community. The adjacent café is one of the few excellent spots to eat in Meagher County, and where I first tasted Marchi's blue cheese salad dressing.
The dressing is thick enough to use as a dip, but not so thick that your shirt won't look as splattered as mine if you dip too impatiently. In addition to salad, Marchi likes it with onion-y dishes, such as a dip for onion rings, or to hold the grilled onions in place on a French dip sandwich.
Yields 4 ½ cups
½ cup milk
3 ½ cups Best Foods mayo
6 ounces Gorgonzola
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
Lots of fresh, coarsely ground black pepper
Set a third of the Gorgonzola aside. Blend everything else together. Break apart the unblended chunk of Gorgonzola into little chunks and stir it in. Let it sit for a bit, preferably overnight.
Flower Child lemon tahini dressing
This recipe comes courtesy of Flower Child vegan restaurant chain. This sauce is an emulsion, meaning it won't separate after you mix it up. In other words, it's basically lemon tahini mayo, which is pretty special. If you add a yolk it will emulsify even thicker, but that of course would cause the dressing to lose its veganity.
The dressing also contains nutritional yeast, aka "Hippy Dust," which seems appropriate for a restaurant called Flower Child. The yeast confers a meaty strength to the dressing, which isn't surprising because Hippy Dust is 100 percent yeast meat.
If your garlic is large of clove, like mine, you might not want to use the full eight cloves called for (which for me would be more than half a cup; just saying). So use your best judgement, but don't go lower than one clove. The acid, sweetness, saltiness and richness of this dressing makes it a satisfying blanket to a pile of earthy leaves.
Yields 1 ½ cups
8 cloves of garlic-peeled
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 ½ tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
½ c grapeseed oil
Put the first 7 ingredients in a blender and process on medium speed for 15 seconds. While machine is running, slowly pour in the oils until emulsified. Place in covered container in refrigerator until needed.
Mrs. LeVaux's all-purpose dressing
According to my wife, almost every homemade salad dressing needs more salt. And she’s not usually a heavy salter. And when you think about it, a simple mix of oil and vinegar contains no salt at all, despite the fact that everything needs salt.
Depending on the salad, she will use salt, soy sauce or feta cheese (which is very salty). Here is the recipe her soy sauce vinaigrette, an all-purpose dressing for any type of green.
This dressing is great on a mild green such as lettuce, and is especially good on bitter vegetables like radicchio. The flavors of the dressing engage and interact with those bitter tones, disarming and charming, “leafing” you wanting more.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
¼ cup balsamic
Combine ingredients, dress or dip your salad. If dipping, replenish the oil as necessary.