Last weekend I paid my first visit of the season to Oakland County Farmers’ Market in Waterford Township. I usually go every Saturday just to observe the scene, sometimes not needing any fruit or vegetables but coming home with so many that I either must have a party or distribute the bounty among friends. I like to go early in the morning while the air is cool. Sometimes it seems everything moves in slow motion at the market during this time — quiet and peaceful — before turning into a bustle as the crowds grow and the action escalates. When the sun rises it illuminates the myriad colors of the produce and flowers. What a nice way to start the day! Everyone at the market is friendly; nobody seems in much of a hurry. You don’t hear too many cell phones ringing.
The market is worthy of several visits throughout the season, as new vendors arrive bringing ripened crops. Bring a camera. The displays lend themselves to beautiful photographs. The sights and aromas will enchant your senses. Red, green and yellow tomatoes, onions, rutabagas, green-topped scallions, fresh herbs, beets, several varieties of lettuce, crisp red radishes, carrots and cabbages are picture-perfect this year.
Talk to the farmers. They will give you recipe ideas and describe their fruits and vegetables in ways that will allow you to enjoy the food more.
Michigan strawberries are in, and the early crop is so ripe you can catch the aroma before seeing the berries. Tabone Orchards from Petoskey is offering fresh cherries, dried cherries, cherry jam and cherry juice concentrate, all a ruby color suggesting succulence. The fresh cherries I bought recently weren’t as sweet as they’ll be in another week or two, but they were tasty nonetheless.
At one of the stalls operated by Prielipp Farms and Greenhouse, I spoke to Thomas, a familiar face for a few years, who told me that corn will be ready by mid-July and does not seem to have suffered despite the season’s record rains. Prielipp’s corn is always good, as is most of the other local farmers’. I usually buy a half dozen ears from two to four different growers hoping to find perfection.
Michigan State University Extension Service has master gardeners on hand at the market to answer questions about food and gardening, and there is a vendor selling all kinds of fresh herbs. If you have not cooked with fresh cilantro, parsley, oregano or basil, give it a try. You’ll find they make a world of difference in the flavor of your meal.
Next to the herb stall, there is a seller of certified organic grains and legumes such as flax, popcorn, sunflower seeds, lentils, split peas, barley and stone-ground cornmeal. I always have some of their rye flour on hand. A few tablespoons added to a batch of pizza dough changes the texture by making it a bit chewier.
A farmer who is stationed in the middle of the indoor part of the market sells honey and peanuts and jams and “farm fresh eggs.” I bought two dozen brown eggs on the recommendation of the customer ahead of me. They did taste better than the usual store-bought eggs that I am accustomed to. Fresher is better!
In Michigan, the weather and soil combine to give us some of the best tomatoes and corn (my favorite vegetables) anywhere. At the height of the season, they barely resemble what we eat the rest of the year. As good as these products are served plain with only a bit of salt and pepper, there is a recipe that I use throughout the summer that allows them to complement one another perfectly.
Maque Choux is a Cajun dish that combines corn and tomatoes with onions and bell peppers. At left is a recipe that I encourage you to try, altering the quantities based on how much of each ingredient you have on hand and what your personal taste dictates.
On the subject of Cajun food, I recently went to Andre’s Louisiana Seafood Sandwiches — it’s hard for me to stay away too long — and tried the newly added shrimp and crawfish étoufée and a praline, both selections among the best I’ve eaten. The étoufée was the perfect texture, just enough sauce to be absorbed by the rice, and the flavors were lip-smacking good. Andre’s now has a crawfish boil: three and a half pounds of crawfish with corn and potatoes for $15. Check it out while mudbugs are in season.
The Oakland County Farmers’ Market is located at 2350 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford Twp., one light west of Telegraph. Call 248-858-5495. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday all summer.
Andre’s Louisiana Seafood Sandwiches is located at 752 W. Huron in Pontiac. Call 248-858-8208.Jeff Broder is a chow hound for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]