I have a small patch of green space in my backyard where I replanted my mom’s rhubarb. This is the same hardy plant that she tended when I was a kid and whose stalks she chopped up, sweetened and made into sauces and pie fillings. I’m still amazed every year when it comes back. In my family, rhubarb was either loved and longed for or avoided. I moved the plant to where I live now, and it has largely been ignored until this year – this pandemic year – when I’ve taken renewed interest in its welfare, planning a sauce, pie or quick bread, probably combined with strawberries. And because rhubarb responds well to freezing, I can keep it on hand until I decide exactly how I want to use it.
Back in the 1970s when TV dinners and other convenience foods were giving home cooks a break from the kitchen, my mom used the summer months to preserve fruits and vegetables for the cold season ahead. To get fresh produce, we kids piled into the Plymouth Belvedere and headed to farm stands and markets, including one of the granddaddies, West Allis. We’d return home with bushels of tomatoes, peaches and pickles. What I remember most clearly about those runs are the colors and shapes of the vegetables. Pinky-red radishes connected to bushy green tails, eggplant that looked like misshapen missiles, bulbous tomatoes in colors from yellow to deep scarlet. My mom loved the little pickling cucumbers covered in tiny, prickly bumps. My brothers and I were tasked with scrubbing the cucumbers before she turned the kitchen into a warm, aromatic pickling factory.
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For as long as I can remember, gathering bushels of seasonal produce was part of my summer. Years ago, I subscribed to a CSA (community supported agriculture) and loved the variety of produce I received. Even when the week’s haul was a lot of one particular item, I appreciated the challenge of finding ways to use it. The flood of garlic scapes that came one year turned into enough pesto to last through the following winter.
This year, I’m getting my produce a little differently. Instead of going to farmers markets, I’m visiting farms where I can pick my own. In early summer, that included juicy strawberries and crisp snap peas. Later in the season, I’m looking forward to slender-neck pears and plump, shiny apples. Many you-pick farms have put extra social-distancing and hygienic practices (hand-washing stations) into place to make the experience safer for everyone. I’m also dipping my toes into the new CSA model that offers curated online shopping of its homegrown goods with products from other local farms woven in, as well.
My mom’s rhubarb is now stowed away in my freezer for a future baking project. Unlike my mother, I will not be canning pickles, but I am planning to expand my repertoire when it comes to preserving what I buy. For one thing, I hate waste. For another – and deeper – reason, the more involved I am in the preparation of my food, the more nourished I feel.
Pick the Perfect Market
ALL OF THEM HAVE COVID-19 guidelines in place, so bring a mask and adhere to social-distancing practices. Socializing is discouraged, as is bringing your dog along. Prepared foods are available, but you’ll have to take them home to eat. Check out each market’s website ahead of time for specifics before you visit.
IF YOU WANT EVERYTHING IN ONE PLACE…
Huge selection of fresh, seasonal produce, plants and flowers, and the website has a detailed summary of each stall.
6501 W. National Ave. | Through November Tuesdays and Thursdays noon-6 p.m.; Saturdays 1-6 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m.-noon reserved for elderly and vulnerable shoppers
IF YOU LOVE THE CELEBRATION OF DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY…
All produce sold here is grown within 50 miles of the market.
2200 W. Fond du Lac Ave. | June 27-Nov. 1: Saturdays 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 7-Nov. 21: Saturdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
IF A DOWNTOWN SETTING IS A PLUS…
Offers 50 vendors right across from the former Shops at Grand Avenue
301 W. Michigan St. | Through Oct. 7 Wednesdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
IF YOU LOVE LOCAL PREPARED FOODS…
Find waffles (by Press), popcicles (Pete’s Pops), empanadas (Triciclo Perú), soups (Wisconsin Soup Co.) and more
7720 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa | May 30-Oct. 17 Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A WIDE SELECTION…
Shop for everything from sweet corn to Greek specialties and fresh bouquets
Brookfield Central High School, 16900 Gebhardt Rd. | Through October Saturdays 7:30 a.m.-noon
IF THE SCENIC BACKDROP OF LAKE MICHIGAN IS A MUST…
Grab-n-go eats join sauces and honeys, fresh blooms and other local food and goods
2900 S. Shore Dr. | June 20-Oct. 24 Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A MARKET ON A SUNDAY…
All things local, from soaps to salsa, fresh veggies to fresh sausage
Estabrook Park, south end, 4100 N. Estabrook Parkway | Through October Sundays 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A… SECOND MARKET ON A SUNDAY…
Find locally grown produce, bakery, eggs, meats, prepared foods-to-go, and body-care products. Masks are required. One will be provided, if needed
North Pierce Street between Center and Hadley | Through October 25 Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
IF YOU LIKE CONVENIENCE…
Online ordering and pickup available; see website for details.
Main Street, Drexel Town Square | Through Oct. 24 Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
THE SOIL, heat and rain have been working their magic these last few months to bring life to the season’s yearned-for Wisconsin-grown foods. Here’s what you can find at area farmers markets this month and next:
AUGUST | Beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes, summer squash, salad greens, tomatoes, tomatillos, kale, collard greens, apples, pears, raspberries, sweet corn, radishes, kohlrabi, okra, sweet peas
SEPTEMBER | Brussels sprouts, leeks, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, cabbage, apples, cranberries, raspberries, squash, late-summer leaf lettuce