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Opening Day at Division Street Farmers Market

By Roger Kamholz in Food on May 16, 2011 4:30PM

On Saturday, May 14, the weekly Farmers Market on Division Street between State and Clark streets opened for the season. It was one of several neighborhood markets around Chicago to open this past Saturday. We paid a visit, slinging both camera and canvas sack, to see what had been helped along by the short-lived heatwave we experienced last week. That it's still early in the Midwest growing season was evident in the relatively sparse offerings; nevertheless, some good-looking greens, fulsome fungi and an array of young potted plants all signaled a promising summer of cellulose ahead.

Chilly weather may have reduced the foot traffic, which meant that by around 10 a.m. lots of choice produce were still available. Herbs like mint and lovage (resembles parsley, tastes like celery) and leafy greens like chard, spinach and arugula seemed to be hitting their late-spring stride. Asparagus appeared on several farmers' tables, indicating a boost in quantities since we reported from the Green City Market's outdoor opening on May 4. Potatoes were plentiful. We even spotted some baby radishes.

A number of purveyors had brought along potted herb, fruit and vegetable plants, and even some home-gardening "starter kits," which include a big pot and three or four varieties of young herbs. For those adventurous types who want to grow their own herbs at home but lack the outdoor space to plant a garden, these setups are ideal.

So what did we leave with? A bunch of green-garlic stalks from Nichols Farm (Marengo, Illinois), which we used in lieu of conventional garlic cloves in a mushroom-tomato sauce that we purchased from River Valley Kitchen (Burlington, Wisconsin). We also couldn't pass up snagging a generous handful of fragrant mint (from Smits Farms in Chicago Heights), which flavored a couple of tasty Southside cocktails - fittingly enjoyed Sunday night while Derrick Rose and the Bulls muddled the Miami Heat.