I was surrounded by fresh produce – pink and red radishes; leafy greens in many shades, including deep red; bunches of herbs; red and green kohlrabi; bright strawberries – an astonishing array of crops from local farms. It was way more than I expected this early in the season, tempting me with fresh-picked goodness and the promise of peak flavor. I was like a kid in a candy store at the Westport Farmer’s Market (Thursday 10 to 2 westportfarmersmarket.com).
Even more surprising were the choices for prepared foods – locally cured, pickled, baked, canned, or foraged – all handmade by Connecticut artisans and entrepreneurs, many from local ingredients.
You know you’re on the right track when chefs are shopping with you. We ran into Chef Pat and his kitchen team from Bar Sugo in Norwalk (BarSubgo.com). He was filling bags with the award-winning goat cheese from Beltane Farm in Lebanon, CT. A few minutes later, we crossed paths again at Oui Charcuterie, both picking up some medium spicy salami made by Matthew Browning on his farm.
Chef Matt Storch, owner of Match in SoNo, was demonstrating a menu from his new Vietnamese street food restaurant, Nom-eez in Bridgeport (Nom-eez.com). He’s a regular shopper at the market and praised the produce and supplies, while he made Nom-eez See Through Rolls with tamarind-hoisin dip and gave out free samples.
Thinking ahead to our dinner plans for a simple cauliflower soup, we picked up a whole grain boule from Wave Hill Bakery, a couple sticks of that medium salami from Oui Charcuterie, a few dewy fresh radishes for snacking, a bag of salad greens, and a wedge of Pleasant Cow cheese from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme. The menu was so expanded that we invited friends to join in the bounty.
Thinking even further ahead, some herbed goat cheese from Beltane seemed right for a planned dinner on Saturday along with a bunch of early beets for roasting – the two make a nice salad combo. Marsha’s gimmie was a jar of Sweet Dill Chunk Pickles from Jane’s Good Food.
We’ll be back another time to sample the dazzling array of honey from Norwalk based Andrew’s Local Honey including big city varieties like Brooklyn, da Bronx, Flatiron, Upper East Side, Gramercy and Tribeca. Not all artisanal food is foraged in the country. The fascinating fungus from Pine Lake Mushrooms in Ivoryton will have to wait for another time as will the lavish
fresh flowers from Muddy Feet Flower Farm.
The connection between restaurants and farmers gets stronger every year. In addition to the chefs we ran into during our short visit, many local restaurants are sponsors of the market. Bill Taibe of The Whelk in Westport is often seen stocking up for his menu and building relationships with farmers and producers at the market. Jennifer Balin fuels her seasonal farm-to-table menu at Sugar and Olives in Norwalk with frequent visits to the market. The Thursday market schedule is convenient for chefs as they lay in supplies and develop menu plans for the busy weekend ahead.
Saturday morning, I made a quick visit to the popular New Canaan Farmer’s Market (newcanaanfarmersmarket.net). Right off the bat there was a long line at the Gazy Brothers Farm from Oxford to stock up on fresh greens and early season vegetables. In addition to three farms showing their produce, there is a decided tilt toward prepared foods: two pie vendors, numerous purveyors of ready-to-eat dishes, and specialty coffees and teas, along with unique cookies, gluten free foods, and pickles. A bag of fresh-picked arugula for our salad, and I was on my way.
The Gazy Brothers also do a single vendor market on Wednesdays at the Rainbow Plaza on Main Ave. in Norwalk (just up the street from Dunkin Donuts). It’s convenient for me, the produce is great, and I get to know the family members as they take turns coming to Norwalk.
As I was leaving New Canaan, I heard a customer say to a vendor, “Nice to meet you. See you next week.” Consumers getting to know farmers, chefs forging a link between grower and eater, increased understanding of the hard work that goes into bringing food to our tables – there’s a lot more to Farmer’s Markets than just good food.