Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

Midsummer produce is at its peak
Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without
Photo by Erica Krug
Beets, known for their sweet, earthy flavor, are full of nutrients and minerals.

One of the best things about living in Madison is our access to locally grown food. This is especially true in the summer when farmers’ markets and roadside stands overflow with the season’s bounty of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Everyone knows about the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Capitol Square. Founded in 1972, it’s grown to become the country’s largest producers-only farmers’ market. People flock to the festival-like atmosphere on Saturday mornings and stroll the sidewalks filled with 250-some vendors selling produce, cheese, pastries and flowers.

But when you are in the mood for something more mellow — an opportunity to linger and really get to know your farmers — Madison is home to other smaller markets that take place throughout the week including the South Madison Farmers’ Market with roving days and locations, the Northside Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings and the Hilldale Farmers’ Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I recently visited the Hilldale market, located in the mall’s parking lot off of Segoe Road, to pick up some midsummer produce. Here is a list of five things I couldn’t leave the farmers’ market without — and you shouldn’t either — plus a few ideas about what to do with them.Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

1. Fennel
I found one of my favorite vegetables, fennel, at my first stop at the market, Misty Meadows Dairy, a vegetable farm and goat dairy located in Monroe. A member of the carrot family known for its mild licorice flavor, the fennel bulb can be eaten raw or cooked. When sliced thinly and eaten raw, fennel is cool and crunchy. It is especially delicious when paired with bright citrus and salty olives like in this salad from Bon Appetit magazine. When cooked, fennel becomes velvety and mellow. Try sauteing it with onions in olive oil and use as a topping for a homemade pizza. (Bonus points if you top the pizza with the fresh, herbaceous fennel fronds right before serving.)Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

2. Shishito Peppers
Misty Meadows Dairy also had shishito peppers, one of my favorite summer snacks. Shishitos have a mild, sweet flavor, but beware that about every one in 10 to 20 peppers has some heat! Whip up a batch of sauteed shishitos to serve with cocktails for a delicious summer happy hour.Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

3. Beets
I grew up in a family of pickled beet lovers but have only recently learned to appreciate this gorgeous vegetable. Packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, beets have a sweet, earthy flavor. I found beautiful bunches of beets — raised without any chemicals or pesticides — from Moua Family Farm, a small-scale farm in Fitchburg that is also known for its flowers.Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

Delicious raw or cooked, I like to use beets in lots of different ways. New to the home juicing fad, I love making an afternoon juice for one with two beets, a jalapeño and a lime. I’ve also made a raw beet salad that is good on its own or tossed with greens. I think roasting beets in the oven is the best way to cook beets and it is super simple. Wrap individual beets in aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour or until you can easily wipe off the skins with a paper towel, (but wait for them to cool down a little first). Roasted beets can be eaten in a million different ways (on their own, in a roasted vegetable salad, etc.), or make quick pickled beets by adding apple cider vinegar and water to them in a jar and refrigerating them for dinner. Following in my family’s footsteps, my 3-year-old loves pickled beets. Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

4. Sweet Corn
My mom is from Iowa and therefore a sweet corn purist. We were never allowed to eat corn until at least late July or early August, which is when it first appeared in the back of the pickup truck of her favorite farmer’s roadside stand. I never buy sweet corn at the store to this day, waiting instead until it appears at a farmers’ market. Even though it’s still a little early — the farmer said this corn was raised in a greenhouse and transplanted outside on May 1 — I found some corn at Amazing Grace Family F.A.R.M.’s stand and couldn’t pass it up. Sweet corn should be eaten as soon as possible and I think the best way to prepare it is to take it home, peel it, cook it for a few minutes in a pot of boiling water, slather it in butter and a pinch of salt and eat it for lunch while standing at the kitchen counter. But that might just be me.Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

5. Mint
One word: mojitos. Los Abuelos Farley Farm, an organic farm specializing in Mexican specialty crops, had an abundance of beautiful produce, but I zeroed in on bags overflowing with herbs, specifically mint. Mixed with simple syrup, lime juice, rum and club soda, mojitos are a refreshing summer drink.Five things I can’t leave the farmers’ market without

Bonus: Nieve Mexicana
While I didn’t technically leave the market with it — because my son and I ate it on the spot — I stopped at the stand for a “nieve Mexicana,” or a watermelon slushie made with fruit, sugar and water. On a hot day at the farmers’ market, this was a perfect treat.