A review by Susan Harville
Ithaca loves its farmers’ market. It’s become part of our identity now. Ithacans take visitors to the lovely spot at Steamboat Landing to show off our colorful diversity, our attractive lifestyle, and maybe to introduce out-of-towners to rutabaga curling. We enjoy the flowers, the music, the arts and crafts, and the sociability at the market while we stock up on beautiful vegetables and fruits (and bread, wine, eggs, cheese, and garlic scape pesto!). Sometimes, we buy delicious ready-made dishes available from an astonishing variety of vendors for an instant picnic near the water.
We feel proud that the Ithaca Farmers Market has become a leading force in the important local food movement. Knowing that eating local fosters a healthier life and a healthier planet makes the food taste even better.
The Ithaca Farmers Market began in 1973 (as did Moosewood Restaurant), first in empty lots, on old airport runways, and then at the permanent pavilion structure, built entirely with volunteer labor, in 1989. About 15 years ago, a cookbook committee was formed, but the project didn’t really progress too far until author and restaurateur, Michael Turback brought his vision of publishing a cookbook about the market to the group in 2009. A year later, Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook was published. We heartily recommend it, not just to fellow Ithacans but to anyone interested in good food.
There’s a huge range of recipes here, all designed to maximize the flavors of fresh, locally grown ingredients. Sometimes recipes are from the growers and sometimes Turback pairs the producer with a local chef who provides a recipe. There has long been a tradition of local communities, schools, churches, and women’s clubs publishing small cookbooks to which everyone contributes. We love the spirit of those cookbooks, but the recipes are often disappointing. This cookbook, which “celebrates the food, the people and the mission of America’s most progressive farmers market”, is crammed full of quite sophisticated recipes. We don’t see a blooper in the group.
Don’t you want to try Strawberry Gazpacho “Amuse Bouche”, Pumpkin Pie Pancakes, Route 79 Cheese and Ale Soup, Folk Art Mary’s Green Sauce for Pasta, Macro Mama’s Pressed Salad with Green Apple, Jicama and Fresh Herbs, or Flatbread Pizza with Bosc Pears, “Bergere Bleu” and Roasted Hazelnuts ? Or start with something simple but ingenious, such as Sweet Corn and Edamame “Succotash”, Oven-Roasted Asparagus Two Ways, or “Just a Taste”of Wilted Greens. There are plenty of enticing desserts, too, such as “Balaton” Cherry Sorbet with Tarragon, “Long John” Plum Kuchen, Sweet Maple Carrot Cake, and Café Blueberry Tiramisu.
The recipes in Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook are accompanied by introductions to market people. Turback ferrets out interesting details about each market vendor. Brad Marshall and Heather Sandford work in an off-grid kitchen powered by sun and wind. We learn about the very beginning of the romance, at GrassRoots music festival, between Ian and Samantha of Emmy’s Organics. There are many immigrant stories of vendors from Cambodia, Cuba, Chile and Hungary, for instance. Like many other people in Ithaca, the vendors are a well-educated lot—artisans in their crafts. Jan Beuzekom is a classically trained Dutch cheesemaker. Pig farmer, Brad Marshall, studied charcuterie at the French Culinary Institute. John Reynolds has degrees in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell and is inspired by traditional agriculture in Japan on his Daring Drake Farm, where he grows many different fruits and raises ducks.
Knowing something about the cast of extraordinary characters enhances a visit to the market in Ithaca, certainly, but these people have plenty to say to the world about their dedication to environmentally beneficial, sustainable farming practices, also. Many market vendors see themselves as educators, sharing what they do and their enthusiasm about it. Anton Burkett of Early Morning Farm calls himself a “community activist”, someone who is not simply growing vegetables, but cultivating a grassroots community.
The first recipe in the book is for a bread and tomato salad, which is always delightful, the very essence of summer, but if you follow grower Bob Stull’s advice, it will be even better. He recommends Black Krim tomatoes, an heirloom variety that is dark maroon and winey with a concentrated essence. You probably can’t find any Black Krims at the supermarket—you need a local grower.
When you read what Black Diamond Farm’s Ian Merwin, a renowned pomologist, has to say about his favorite variety of apple, Goldrush, with an intensely flavored sweet-tart crisp flesh, you’ll wish you had one in hand at the moment and you’ll promise yourself to look for them when next at the market. Goldrush are good winter keepers.
Be sure to check out the pages about Moosewood’s own Tashi Dhondup and Jano Parra, who run a market booth called Tibetan Cooking. You’ll find recipes for a delicious Sherpa Stew and Cabbage Salad, as well as the interesting stories of Jano and Tashi.
Author Michael Turback also seasons the book with fascinating tidbits about local history and topography. He’s knowledgeable about winemaking, varietals in honey, and the details of maple sugaring. He explains how the terroir influences the unique qualities of cheeses and the proper etiquette for eating Concord grapes. He takes us through European artisanal techniques for making baguettes while explaining why the breads and pastries are so good at Just Desserts. He quotes Margaret Mead and Marcel Proust to good effect.
There are many intelligent culinary tips here, also. Did you know that asparagus begins to lose its sweetness the moment it’s cut? Treat asparagus like spring flowers and put the spears in ½ inch of water in a glass and refrigerate.
The Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook was produced locally in accordance with the market’s 30-mile rule, which requires that everything sold must be grown or made within 30 miles of the market. So, all tasks involved in producing the book, from recipe testing and design to printing and binding were accomplished within the local “foodshed”.
The book is filled with vibrant photographs of the market by Ithaca photographer, Robyn Wishna. All proceeds from the sale of the book go back to the vendors at the market.
This cookbook is both a celebration of Ithaca’s unique farmers’ market, and an inspiration and a help to all aspiring locovores. We learn that local farmers grow “varieties best suited to local climate and soils, allowing flavor and nutrition to take precedence over transportability. ‘Food miles’ are relatively small, which greatly reduces fossil fuel use and pollution. Eating locally means your food is better-tasting, better for the environment, better for the local economy, and better for your health.”
Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook, by Michael Turback, Farm Fresh Books, 2010