Hoop houses and greenhouses mean producers can grow and sell summery crops like spinach, leaf lettuce, even peppers at this late date. But fall’s root crops are taking center stage at the markets, just in time for cooler weather dishes such as soups, stews and roasted vegetables.
(See recipe for salsa below.)
“People are really starting to understand eating in season,” said Christy Harteau, manager at the Walworth County Farmers Market in Elkhorn’s downtown square — as well as a market vendor from Moonstar Farms near Elkhorn. “This means they buy what we have as it comes in. Right now, we have folks wanting to freeze, can and pickle. Beans, beets, carrots, zucchini and tomatoes are most asked for. Most of the winter squash and pumpkins are just now coming in.
“Customers do ask for recipes, and they are very interested in how the food is grown. I can honestly say about 80 percent of my time is spent in educating. The customers appreciate the locally grown selection of produce and meat products. Some like to stock their freezers and others come to the farm during the winter to restock.”
Beth Narayanan of Brook Farm in Harvard, Ill., who sells at the market there as well as in Woodstock, Ill., and in Lake Geneva, said fewer customers are doing canning than 20 years ago, but the canners are knowledgeable.
“We get a lot of customers who know what they’re doing, who will buy half a bushel of canning tomatoes to make salsa or something,” she said.
Reedy has noticed those shoppers interested in preserving food are often negotiators, too.
“Most want a ‘bargain’ if they are buying lots of tomatoes or cucumbers for canning,” she said. “Some vendors are more than willing to do so.”
This transitional time means shoppers still have variety. Just a few Sundays ago, Caroline Robb, manager for the Rock County Farmers Market, said available produce there included pumpkins, peaches, grapes, raspberries and garlic. She noted vendors offer a wide range of products, including bakery, kettle corn, and honey —along with a beekeeper who demonstrates how the product is made with live bees.
Over the years, area markets have developed a diversity that doesn’t stop with summer’s end. The Rock County market has vendors that sell Peruvian food, aprons and even cloth baby diapers that don’t need pins. The Walworth County Farmers Market boasts fiber artists, photography featuring the Walworth County Barn Quilt project and a man who sharpens scissors and knives. At the Lake Geneva Farmers Market, manager Sean Payne points out a vendor who sells crabs from the Gulf waters in Texas, and pastry chef Barbara Adler, whose baked treats include rhubarb cherry crisp, pumpkin bread and turtle brownies.
Glen Genac, who’s been selling handmade wooden bird houses, feeders and banks outside Lake Geneva’s market for a decade, said post-Labor Day shoppers are thinking about the upcoming holidays.
“People are looking to buy a Christmas present for Aunt Martha or someone,” he said.
But fresh produce still draws shoppers, and as the growing season winds down, they’re looking for ways to preserve the harvest.
A federally funded Women Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program lets low-income participants use food vouchers to pay for fresh produce at many area markets. At the Rock County market, Robb said she’s trying to get House of Mercy, an emergency homeless shelter in Janesville, interested in having market staff teach preservation classes for residents there. Robb wants to give those who are homeless, but getting ready to leave the shelter for their own places, a hand in saving money and eating nutritiously.
“Providing fresh produce to folks who, for whatever reason, can’t afford to purchase it is something we have been doing since we started,” she said.
Jenny Wehmeier, family living educator for UW-Extension’s Walworth County office, said her department has offered food preservation classes, including water bath canning, for about five years. This summer, it provided classes on preserving jams and jellies, pickling and making salsa. Classes on pressure cooking will be held this fall, and next spring a course on food dehydration is planned.
This time of year, produce that’s easily preserved includes tomatoes, apples, beans and vegetable blends, such as peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots, she said.
“What’s interesting is how many people are going back to the basics when it comes to food,” said Wehmeier, who makes her own jams, jellies, pickled peppers and salsa — with a little help from her sons, ages 9 and 4, who love to mash berries and stir the fruit while it’s cooking.
Preserving food is gaining in popularity as people think more about what they’re eating, Wehmeier believes. They like how preserving saves money and time. And even first-time canners don’t need to spend a bundle on equipment, she said.
“We encourage people to get canning jars, not re-use mayonnaise or other jars, but you don’t have to buy brand new top-of-the-line jars to get started,” she said. “You can reuse the jars and bands, but you cannot re-use the lids.”
Wehmeier said urban legends have evolved of pressure cookers exploding, spewing tomato sauce onto kitchen ceilings. Updated rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have made the process safer, she said. Cooks using older pressure cookers or water bath canners can bring their equipment in to the UW-Extension office in Elkhorn to be inspected. Additionally, staff members can answer questions on whether grandma’s old recipe needs to be updated for newer safety standards. Cooks also can check for more information online at www.foodsafety.wisc.edu.
Reedy said she’s seen more farmers market shoppers purchasing fruit to make jams.
“I think the preserving classes are generating an increased interest in home canning and preserving. People are more comfortable home preserving if they have taken a class and had some instruction and hands-on experience,” she said.
Here's a recipe for tomatillo green salsa from "Canning Salsa Safely" Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series by the University of Wisconsin-Extension:
5 cups tomatillos or green tomatoes, chopped
1-1/„2 cups long green chilies, peeled, seeded, and chopped (3 chilies)
1/„2 cup jalapeo peppers, seeded and finely chopped (2 peppers)
4 cups onions, chopped (2 medium)
1 cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin (optional)
2 tbsp. dried cilantro (optional)
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper
Yield: 5 pints
Jalapeno peppers do not need to be peeled. Chop tomatillos or green tomatoes.Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils.
Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1-„2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe jar rims and cap with properly pre-treated lids. Process in a boiling water canner.
Process time in a boiling water canner for hot pack pint jars at the followingelevations:
0-1,000 feet 15 minutes
1,001-6,000 feet 20 minutes