Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
I no longer believe that food is food, and that we can ignore the details of what we eat as long as we do not eat too much, have 5 servings of vegetables/fruit a day, and consume enough protein. My recent research on ancient beliefs concerning food and health and new scientific studies on the chemistry of nutrients in food tells me details matter.
The notion of certain foods having medicinal qualities is ancient. A 2015 article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology entitled “When foods become remedies in ancient Greece: The curious case of garlic and other substances” addressed the distinctions between food and medicine in a body of writings called the Hippocratic Corpus (HC), a multi-author work compiled from 500 BC to 400 B. In that time, many medicines were purgatives. Called “pharmakon” they were astringent, bitter, and foul smelling and could not be concocted by the body. Concoct roughly means to digest but includes idea of providing nourishment and supporting growth. “Trophe” was the name for nourishing substances.
Garlic was a major component of the Greek diet, however, it was also considered to have medicinal properties. It was mainly used to promote robustness after other treatments. Women who were treated for displacement of the womb with purgatives, fumigations, and manipulations were encouraged eat both raw and cooked garlic and sip a garlic broth.
Interestingly, at this time (2500 years ago) Greek physicians embraced “dietetics,” a holistic branch of medicine focusing on the interaction between diet, exercise, and lifestyle.
By the Middle-Ages, onions were prescribed as a cure for headaches, snakebites, and hair loss. The majority of the vegetable diet then consisted of beans, cabbages (this would have included greens such as kales), and onions. Knowing how onions enhance bean and green dishes, I was not surprised to learn onions were used to pay rent and as wedding gifts.
By the late Middle-Ages (13th century) herbals (the medical text books of the day) were recommending garlic, onions, and leeks—all alliums—for the elderly and to cure coughs, to kill worms, improve the flow of mother’s milk and semen, and to soften the bladder. Onions were thought to improve eyesight, but garlic was said to have the potential for damaging the eyes and brain. I especially liked the recommendation for constriction of the chest which was to use onions baked under embers served with sugar and butter, which sounds just like a delicious concoction of caramelized onions.
In the late 20th century, modern scientific research discovered and “inverse correlation between garlic consumption and progression of cardiovascular disease,” meaning it is good for your heart. Even though this discovery was made very recently via epidemiologic and clinical studies, garlic extracts are now marketed as a “traditional medicine” to reduce hypertension and high cholesterol. Such a use does not appear in ancient texts!
Ancient recommendations on food and health were based on observation. The ability to research the mode of action of chemicals in food is very recent. The molecular nature of matter was only identified in the 19th century, knowledge that has been known for less than 1-percent of our existences as humans. Not knowing about the chemistry of food resulted in the ancients making some colossal errors. They believed women had a tube in their bodies leading from the vagina to the mouth. Thus, a test of fertility for a woman consisted of “applying a washed and peeled head of garlic to the womb, and determining the next day” if it could be smelled in her breath. If so, she was fertile. We now know the bad-breath comes from an Allium’s sulfide compounds coursing through our blood, making us stink a little, but also protecting our cardiovascular system.
But don’t discount ancient knowledge. We are re-discovering the value of the ancient theory of “dietetics” as we examine the consequences of our modern sedentary life and processed food diet.
With summer and Father’s Day right around the corner, there’s no better way to cook your farmers’ market finds than on the grill. When we think of grilling, meat is often the king and there is no better place to find a variety of meat than at the farmers’ market. Every week you can find beef, chicken, lamb, ribs, bratwursts and more at our Saturday and Wednesday markets.
Realizing how lucky we are to be surrounded by experts at the Durham Farmers’ Market, we checked in with Bryan Horton, field manager at Fickle Creek Farm, for his grilling suggestions. Of course, he started by chatting about beef and how to make the perfect hamburger. Simple is the best, so pick up ground beef at the market and form your own patties to grill. If you plan to add vegetables into the beef patty, such as onions, peppers or garlic, add a little extra water so that the burger stays together on the grill.
If you are looking for another option, pick up sausage or bratwurst and toss it over the warmest part of the grill. Surround it with summer squash, zucchini and onions on the indirect heat. Finally, there are plenty of steak options at the market. Horton recommends adding a strong flavor to steaks, such as green garlic. Make a cold cucumber salad to complement the meal and serve it with a mild cheese from one of the market’s dairy vendors.
Just like we patiently wait for our favorite foods to be in season, you also need to practice patience when grilling. Flipping your meat too often can cause it to dry out, so sit back and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors while you wait for each side to cook.
While meat may be the king of the grill, vegetables make a strong queen. Try grilling seasonal ingredients like cabbage, leeks, radicchio, fennel and eggplant, and be sure to keep experimenting! Working in batches, grill each type of veggie until they are lightly charred and tender. Bell peppers and fennel take 8-10 minutes, while squash, zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms take about 7 minutes. Asparagus and green onions cook quickly at just 4 minutes so be sure to keep an eye on them. Talk to the market’s vendors for ideas for unique veggie combinations. Serve the veggies with mozzarella or a tangy cheese from the market. And don’t forget that you can grill greens and lettuce, such as romaine or radicchio. Cut the heads into wedges and grill for 3-5 minutes per side. Voila! You have a new spin on an old salad favorite!
Finally, what would a meal be without dessert? Right now, peaches make the perfect treat! The experts at Kalawi Farm said to cut your peaches in half, coat them with a neutral tasting oil and place them on the direct heat of the grill, cooking for 3-4 minutes per side.
Don’t be afraid to try something new on the grill! Be sure to share your suggestions with the farmers’ market vendors so you can continue the conversation about creative ways to cook and eat delicious meat and produce this season.
Growing up, summer vacation was always a given. Looking back on those long summer months, I probably took for granted the family trips we would take together. Now as an adult, I find myself counting down the days until vacation, looking forward to traveling and cherishing those moments to decompress and explore a new place.
But what about the farmers and market vendors who depend on those busy summer Saturdays to earn the lion’s share of their yearly income? Do they have the opportunity to steal away for a week or so and partake in the relaxation with their friends and family who may not have a farmers’ market work schedule? Impressively, many do take this time. After chatting with a few of our vendors who got away this summer, I learned that it takes a lot of effort and sacrifice to make it happen.
One vendor spoke about how difficult it can feel to leave for any extended period of time because their farm is a living thing. It requires constant attention and care to thrive, much like a child. Because of this, these farmers spend the whole season training their crew to manage the farm alone in preparation for the time they would be away. This extra effort and foresight builds a stronger, more capable farm crew and gives the owners a needed chance to decompress. I’d say this is a win-win scenario for any business!
Our market also had a vendor who got married this summer, a few vendors who travelled far away from North Carolina to attend weddings, and many who headed straight for the mountains or coast to be with their families. These vacations are invaluable, and the Durham community who supports and shops at the market plays a huge role in making them possible.
There is so much beauty and bounty offered year-round on our vendors’ tables, and the folks standing behind those tables have worked so hard to bring it to you. Thank you for showing up and continuing to make this market strong, vibrant, and sustainable. We have loved sharing our summer with you, and are excited to soon venture into other seasons together. See you at the market!
Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
At the start of this series, I noted that garlic was a member of the genus, Allium. Other important members of Allium are onions, scallions, shallots, and green onions.
Classification of plants and animals into similar groups was practiced in a rudimentary form by the ancients. This endeavor is worthwhile because plants that are related share similar characteristics—such as, growth habits, flavor, and risk of poisoning. Children appear to naturally divide plants in to bitter, and, therefore, not edible and non-bitter or sweet. This is thought, by some, to enhance survival because bitter plants are more likely to be poisonous and have fewer calories. Growing children need lots of calories and are more robust if they avoid poisons. This their preference for sweet potatoes over arugula.
Traditionally plant morphology has formed the basis for grouping. Growth habit, flowering time, structure of flowers and seeds, presences of roots, bulbs, tubers, color, leaf structure, and so on are the basis for classification. Several of the articles on the genus allium note it is morphologically difficult resulting in changes over time in the nomenclature used to for the plants in the genus.
Nomenclature confusion also reigns in ordinary life. People are often confused as to differences among shallots, scallions, spring onions, and green onions, not to mention, plain old onions. I will now clear this up for Durham Farmer’s Market customers. I am using the classification from Bon Appetit, an influential food and cooking magazine published by the famous mass media company, Conde’ Nast. Why? Because the differences are mainly important to chefs and cooks who are interested in the subtle differences in flavor of each.
- Onions have bulbs and are sold without their leaves. They come in two types, sweet and storage. When picked, storage onions form a papery dry skin that allows them to be stored for 6 to 8 months in cool dry conditions. Sweet onions, for example, Vidalia onions do not form the dry skin but can be stored in for a couple of months if refrigerated.
- Scallions and green onions are the same thing. They do not form bulbs and have long, hollow stems.
- Spring onions look similar to scallions but are actually baby, bulbous onions harvested before they form the bulbs.
- Shallots have multipart bulbs with separate cloves similar to those formed by garlic; however, these cloves do not have a thick membrane like that in garlic cloves.
Farmers must pay particular attention to one characteristic of onions, namely, whether they are short, long, or intermediate day onions. Short day onions start to form bulbs when the day-length reaches 10 to 12 hours and are grown in USDA zones 7 and higher (southern regions). Right now in our area the day length is fourteen hours and 30 minutes. We will max out at fourteen hours and 36 minutes. To determine the longest day, one measures the number of seconds, and this usually occurs on June 20 or 21.
I love, love, love long days. So since, without looking at seconds are barely perceptible, without looking at a stop watch, I celebrate a nine day Approximate Summer Solstice. If you want to see the chart for day length by date, go to: https://sunrise-sunset.org/us/durham-nc.
Long-day onions need at day length or at least 14 hours to form bulbs. Onions grow slowly—about 110 days from planting to harvest (3.6 months). In Durham we have 2.5 months in which the days are longer than 14 hours. In Madison WI, days are longer than 14 hours for 3.5 months.
Anyway the gist is: In NC we can only grow short and intermediate day onions. Most of the short and intermediate day onions are sweet onions. For example, intermediate day onions have variety names like Candy and Red Candy Apple. Thus, onions you buy at market are likely to be sweet onions. And, since shallots are long-day Alliums, you will never be able to buy shallots from a farmers at the DFM and you can forget about the need distinguish between shallots and scallions.
Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
Eating healthy and preparing meals can feel overwhelming. With an endless to-do list and busy schedules, cooking at home or bringing your own lunch to work can easily get pushed to the side. Salads are simple to make, but it’s easy to get into a rut, using the same type of lettuce or green every time.
Spring is the perfect time to try new lettuces and greens, and the Durham Farmers’ Market is the best place to find more than 30 varieties of greens that will tickle your taste buds. Dinosaur Kale, Italian Escarole, Tango Lettuce – the possibilities and flavors are endless! No longer do your salads need to taste “boring” or “bland.”
Greens and lettuces are filled with Vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, calcium and fiber. As a general rule, the darker the green, the more nutrients it contains. No matter the green, it’s hard to go wrong! You can purchase a salad mix at the Farmers’ Market or make your own. Here’s a simple guideline for creating your own delicious mix:
1.) Start with a mild lettuce or green, such as spinach, mache, escarole or kale
2.) Add a crisp lettuce or green, like romaine
3.) Finish with a tart, bitter or spicy green, such as arugula, watercress, mizuna, radicchio, chioggia, tat soi, mustard greens, endive, dandelion, frisee, radicchio, swiss chard, collards, bok choy or turnip greens
Cool-season lettuces and greens thrive in the spring and fall when temperatures are below 70 degrees. These include kale, mustard greens, spinach, chard and looseleaf lettuces. You can find these and many others at the Market right now! Due to North Carolina’s mild climate, you can also find greens and lettuces throughout the summer, such as varieties of romaine and crisphead lettuces.
Spend time one evening this week prepping several salads so you have a ready-to-eat, healthy, local meal at your fingertips when lunch or dinnertime hits. Use the plastic containers or mason jars sitting around your house and fill them with luscious lettuce, glorious greens and local vegetables from your Farmers’ Market. When it’s time to eat, top the salad with your favorite dressing and add any proteins, such as quinoa, meat or nuts. Now you are all set for a meal that will make your body strong and give you the energy you need to continue with your day. Happy eating!
One of the most exciting aspects of shopping at a local farmer’s market is the anticipation seasonal produce. All year long we are able to celebrate the arrival of delicious and unique foods that are not available all the time the way they are in a typical grocery store. The freshness and quality of this produce is undeniable, and shoppers have the opportunity to ask questions to the very farmers who have planted, grown, and harvested it!
Speaking of seasons, spring is here and is one of my favorite times at the market. The air is getting warmer, everything is becoming greener, and we start seeing produce that is only available for a short period every year. Here is a list of some of the great, can’t-miss produce at the market during springtime.
Asparagus: Asparagus can be found at the market from mid March- April depending on weather. It’s one of the three common vegetables in North America that comes from a perennial plant, including rhubarb and artichokes. Amazingly, asparagus spears can grow up to 6 inches or more in one day. This spring favorite can be prepared many ways, but we recommend simply marinating the spears in olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper and grilling for about 5 minutes, making sure to turn the spears every minute or two!
Strawberries: Strawberries are heralded as the first fruit of spring, and are available at the market April- early June, depending on weather. Did you know what they are the only fruit that has its seeds on the outside? For this reason, botanists consider each strawberry seed be its own individual fruit. If you like to rinse strawberries, be sure to wait until right before you plan to eat them. They will keep much longer if they are stored this way. Also, if you know you will eat your strawberries in a day or two, they will be more flavorful left out on the counter than they are after they’ve been in the fridge!
Rhubarb: It is no coincidence that rhubarb is a popular addition to strawberry desserts because they have a very similar growing season and are available at the market at the same time of year. Field-grown rhubarb’s peak season is April and May, and again this always depends on what the weather is like. Be sure to remember that only the stalks of the rhubarb are edible, and the leaves are toxic to humans. Rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw, but also can be used nicely to enhance the flavor of other fruits. It is delicious in pies, cakes, sauces, jams, and more.
Other incredible spring produce available this time of year includes radishes, leeks, arugula, artichokes, snow peas and pea shoots, salad turnips, fennel, bok choy, and broccoli, to name a few!
With our full season hours in swing, you now have more flexibility to find this produce every week. Visit the market on Saturday mornings from 8:00 am-Noon, and on Wednesday afternoons from 3:00-6:00 pm. See you soon!
As I spritz the last slice of lime into my steaming curry sauce, I smile with relief that I’ve made it out of a cooking rut. I tend to ebb and flow in the kitchen with creativity; it’s easy for me to fall back into a world of stir-fry this and stir-fry that. As a mostly seasonal vegetable eater, sometimes it is challenging to be innovative when my winter market bounty looks similar week after week. I knew something had to change when I stopped eating my leftovers. I emerged from stove top monotony by turning on my oven, this is where my recent culinary excursion began.
Roasted vegetables returned to my menu when I had an abundance of carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and cabbage. Within fifteen minutes I tossed them into a baking pan with butter, coriander, ginger, salt, and pepper. I baked everything until the broccoli started to brown and was more than happy to eat this combination with rice all week. I thought my problems were solved. The following week, I found my second batch of roasted vegetables neglected by Wednesday and reluctantly admitted that I needed to branch out once again. I returned to the stove top but grabbed a pot instead of a frying pan.
I picked up cilantro, lemongrass, coconut milk, limes, and fish sauce, essentials for a Thai red curry. The usual suspects came from the market; green onion, garlic, red potatoes, and the most beautiful cabbage I’ve ever seen. After cooking the potatoes and onions down with garlic and oil, cabbage was added along with water. Then coconut milk, herbs, and spices brought this dish to life. A little sugar and fish sauce creates a delectable salty and sweet flavor, while a bit of lime ties it all together. A scoop of this over jasmine rice was a party for my taste buds, I could feel them celebrate the accomplishment of both a home cooked meal and delicious, unique flavors. Typically, I am tempted to eat at a restaurant when I want to taste something different than what I am cooking at home. The health and cost benefits of cooking my own meals are so great that I try not to go this route too often. Instead, I will continue to find alternative ways to cook my beloved winter staples. Next up, stuffed cabbage and mashed potatoes. Visit us at the market and tell us what you’re whipping up with your seasonal vegetables.