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the top producers of early spring
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The first market is coming up this Thursday, May 18. This season might be my favorite time in Ronan, as everyone’s lilacs are blooming at once and the scent of it seduces me each time I step outside.
But it’s also a tricky season for vegetable growers in Montana. Many years it’s still cold and wet in May, and it takes time before those “spring” vegetables start producing here in the Mission Valley. Deciding on the right time for the first market of the season can, therefore, be a difficult proposition: if you start too early, there might be no produce, but if you start too late, some growers might not be able to sell their earliest-season goods or the vegetable starts and fruit trees that now is the right time to plant.
A few things you can bet on having available by mid-May are those vegetables that are perennial. Asparagus and rhubarb might be the most famous of those, and we are indeed in their peak season. You can expect to find both at Thursday’s market.
Other perennial vegetables that produce reliably during this season include sorrel, lovage, chives, and some herbs (I know my own garden is already overflowing with oregano and lemon balm, two herbs in the mint family that are, because they are mints, very eager to spread to every corner of the yard and garden). A lot of people aren’t very familiar with sorrel and lovage, though, so in addition to providing a few asparagus and rhubarb recipes, I wanted to give you some information on these two wonderful perennials.
Sorrel is related to rhubarb, and you can sometimes find types of sorrel growing as a weed. I remember reading about sorrel in a French cookbook a long time ago, but never being able to find it (and I didn’t have a garden back then). Then one summer when we lived in Alaska, some kids on the playground near our apartment were eating a weed they called “sour grass” and it turned out to be a wild or naturalized type of sorrel. That summer my elder son was a toddler, and we had so much fun foraging for berries and mushrooms in the wet Kenai forests, so we started bringing home bunches of sorrel, too, and making soups and quiches and other things with it.
You can eat sorrel raw, in salads, for example, or minced and sprinkled on salmon or chicken as you would do with parsley, but it can be quite sour. However, I have found when you saute it or otherwise cook it, it not only loses some of its delightful sour kick, it also turns an undignified color. My new favorite way to eat it is, therefore, in this soup:
I usually serve it at room temperature, though reportedly it is also good hot or cold. I just served this as part of a tea party service for extended family, and even people who do not usually favor leafy greens liked it.
Lovage, on the other hand, is in the same family as celery, carrots, and parsley (and also, for a bit of excitement, some terribly poisonous things that grow wild, such as water hemlock) but it’s perennial, whereas most other cultivated Apiaceae are biennial. Lovage looks like celery and tastes like a combination of celery and carrot greens; it has a little more spice than celery with detectable notes of anise in many cases. It makes a delicious soup, in the manner of cream of celery soup, and the leaves are also good in salads. We especially love it in potato salads and pasta salads, but you can use it almost anywhere you would use parsley or celery.
This Thursday, we’re sure to have asparagus and we expect to have rhubarb, sorrel, lovage, and herbs as well. With a bit of luck, there might be some kale and spinach on hand, but not all of our growers are finding this May’s weather cooperative with their growing plans. We hope to see you there!
Recipes for the week: