Albert Lea Farmers Market back at its usual locationPublished 9:27am Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Column: Notes from the Garden, by Verlys Huntley
Although the north end of Broadway is under construction for the streetscape project, the farmers market is back in our usual location again this year. We opened on May 15, so we are already more than two weeks into our season. Our hours are the same as last year: Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. And it is always so much fun to see our faithful customers and friends after our long winter break!
This spring has been very different from last year, when we we had a very warm March and many things were almost a month ahead of normal. We were able to put in early garden vegetables in March, and had radishes, green onions and lettuce at our first markets last year. Even the strawberries ripened real early, and when we had our Strawberry Festival in late June, the strawberries were done and we were into the raspberry season. Of course, the lack of rain last year required a lot of watering in our gardens for many of us.
Contrast that to the weather this year, when we had the most unusual May 1 can remember. The record-breaking heavy, wet snowfall on May 1-2 that caused a lot of major damage to trees and shrubs has been followed by an unusual amount of rain. The whole month of May has been much cooler than normal. Because of the extreme drought conditions last year, I tried to keep a positive attitude about the rain, but now we really need some warm and sunny weather. The soil is so saturated that it takes more than just a day or two of sun to get it dry enough to work up, so area farmers are really facing a pretty serious situation. Even the soybeans need to get in the ground soon if they are going to get a decent yield, and some farmers were not able to get all their corn acres planted, which typically should be in no later than May 15.
Produce of the week: Asparagus
Thankfully, there are some things that do well in wetter and cooler weather, and asparagus is one of them. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable which is grown by planting the root crowns. It should be planted as early in the spring as the ground can be worked, and is best planted fairly deep in a trench, gradually filling in the trench as the season progresses. You cannot harvest anything the first year, and even the second year you should probably not harvest much, if any. But by the third year you should have a nice crop. You can either harvest the spears by cutting below ground or snapping them off as close to ground level as possible. Do not harvest any after the end of June, as you want the fern like growth on the top to build up the roots to insure a good crop the following year.
Asparagus is an excellent source of folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and is very low in calories. It is extremely versatile, and can be steamed, boiled, grilled, baked or stir fried. At our market on Saturday, we prepared an asparagus strawberry salad for sampling, and although that may be something you have not tasted before, we had so many compliments on how good that was. We will have copies of that recipe available at our market booth (look for red awning).
The asparagus harvest season is fairly short, but asparagus can be easily frozen and used throughout the whole year. To freeze, blanch asparagus for one or two minutes, depending on size of spears or pieces, then plunge in ice water. When completely cool, drain well and package as desired.
Cream of asparagus soup
2 Tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
6 cups diced asparagus
4 cups chicken broth or 4 cups water with 4 chicken boullion cubes
1 cup light cream
1/8 teaspoon pepper
salt to taste
Melt butter in a large kettle. Saute onions approximately 4 minutes. Add asparagus, chicken broth and simmer until asparagus is tender (10-15 minutes). Cool slightly and puree mixture in blender. Add cream and reheat, adding salt and pepper.
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1/2 pound of cooked ham, finely diced
3 cups asparagus pieces, cut and precooked a little
3/4 cup grated swiss cheese
2 Tablespoons minced onion
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of nutmeg (if desired)
Place ham in pie shell and top with cooked asparagus. Sprinkle with cheese and onion. Beat remaining ingredients and pour on top. Sprinkle with more cheese, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Our market growers are working their hardest to try to provide you with a great variety of good tasting locally grown produce. The weather this year has been challenging, and some of our products will come later than normal, but the farmers market is still your best place to get the most value for your money, and the most nutritious and best-tasting products available. Again this year we are accepting EBT/SNAP benefit cards at our market. We thank Blue Cross Blue Shield for again offering the matching market bucks for the first $5 used on your benefit card each market visit. This means you can receive an extra $10 worth of free food by coming to the market both on Wednesday and Saturday.
Now available at the farmers market
Rhubarb, asparagus, greenhouse strawberries, variety of home baked goodies, jams, jellies, pickles, salsa and other canned items, farm-fresh eggs, local meats, maple syrup, raw honey, candies, local craft items and plants (flowers — annuals and perennials, vegetable plants and herbs).
Radishes, lettuce, spinach and green onions.
Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.