Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opening Day at the Farmer's Market

By "Word on Main Street" contributor Karyn Elliott

The day had been noted on our calendar for weeks. We were excited opening day had finally arrived! We packed up and headed out to meet our friends. And then we were off to the Siloam Springs Farmer's Market located this year in the parking lot adjacent to the downtown Community Building.

Still being early in the season, only a few vendors and farmers were present. One vendor, Marie Davis, was selling kitchen towels and washcloths embellished with crocheted loops and buttons. Another table was surrounded with hand painted items--canvases, bird houses, and hand saws. Behind the handmade items stood the lone farmer. Hoping for tender spring lettuces, I headed over to see what he was offering. There were a few things lined up on his table. He had what looked like seed potatoes (I meant to ask him if my guess was correct, but we got to chatting about other things), sweet potatoes, and freshly ground corn meal.

My two boys love sweet potatoes, so we put a few in our market bag. I was quite interested in the freshly ground corn meal, but having just purchased a bag from the grocery store, I decided to save that item for another visit. I asked the farmer if he thought the meal would work cooked as a polenta. He wasn't sure. Regardless, I think sometime later this season, we'll take some home with us and conduct an experiment.

I asked the farmer what he had growing for the upcoming market dates. He mentioned the basic vegetables from lettuces to tomatoes to zucchini. I asked if other farmers were committed to attending the market; he said he "sure thought so." The newspaper confirmed his hunch. This morning's edition mentioned multiple farmers selling a variety of vegetables and potted plants each week.

While disappointed there wasn't more available, the boys and I are happy the market is open. We enjoyed getting out with friends and chatting with other friends at the Community Building. Shelley Simmons, Executive Director of Main Street Siloam Springs, was there handing out bumper stickers to advertise Siloam Springs' Farmer's Market. We happily took one to adhere to our car. Eager for future market adventures we headed home to cook our sweet potatoes.

This past summer, my mother-in-law shared with us her technique for cooking sweet potatoes. Diced and roasted in the oven, they are a great treat for a snack or a dinner side dish. Here's the recipe for you to try:

Mary Lou's Roasted Sweet Potatoes
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wash and peel the potatoes.
2. Line a shallow baking dish (we use a half-sheet pan) with aluminum foil. Note: I've heard rumors of a compostable parchment paper that can be used in place of the aluminum, but I have yet to find a local source. Chop the potatoes into a large dice--about 1-1 1/2 inch squares. Spread the potato chunks out on the pan.
3. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. I prefer to use course sea salt, but yesterday we were out and used regular old table salt.
4. Pop those potatoes into the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. I usually stir the potatoes once or twice during the roasting process. You'll know the potatoes are done when the edges are a deep, golden brown.

We usually let the cooked sweet potatoes cool down to just above room temperature before we start sneaking bites. It's true! These potatoes usually end up being a pre-dinner snack. They are so yummy--sweet and savory all at the same time! Rarely do we have any left to eat with our dinner.

I think they are best fresh, but on occasion I do cook a bunch and store the uneaten cubes in the refrigerator for a couple of days. I guess one could warm them up, but we typically eat the leftover potatoes cold. Until the lettuces appear, we hope you'll take an hour to roast some sweet potatoes from the local market.

Support our local farmers and come on down to the market. Grab a bumper sticker and some fresh veggies. The farmers and vendors will be waiting for you from 7am-1pm each and every Tuesday and Friday throughout the summer. Who knows...maybe we'll see you there!

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