Grazing the Farmers Market
by Lee Lawrence
In the last couple of years, the offerings have increased enormously at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. While some farmers have always carried a few prepared items—jams, baked goods, cider—to augment their plant, vegetable, fruit, and flower selections, a new generation has brought meats and poultry, eggs, yogurt and cheeses, syrups, dressings, pastas, grains, pickles, and relishes. Market manager Molly Notarianni sees this increase as a reflection of the growing national interest in good, fresh, sustainable, local food, raw and prepared, and she has encouraged the new trend. Few of the new faces have a permanent market stall, nor do they all show up every week, particularly as the weather cools. But with their expanded smorgasbord of local foodstuffs, they have transformed the Ann Arbor Farmers Market into a market in the wider sense.
As usual with products that are hand-raised and handmade, few of these foods are inexpensive, but the quality is often good and occasionally exceptional. La Cake’s $2 mini coconut cupcakes, for instance, are fabulous bites, and the $4.50 almond cream tarts from Cecilia’s Pastries are truly French and truly wonderful. Thomas Organic Creamery’s yogurt ($5.75/quart), though thin, is sharply tangy, and Snow’s Sugarbush maple cream, a spread made from maple syrup heated and whipped to a silky texture, is divine on oatmeal or toast; it’s $12 for 12 ounces. Even Tasty Bakery’s gluten- and dairy-free chocolate chip cookies, while initially off-putting to this unrestricted eater, proved tasty, if a bit crumbly (they’re two for $3). And preserves, so often all sugar and pectin and little fruit, are here made more carefully; Kern Road Farm’s crabapple jam is a thick sweet-tart spread that employs every edible bit of the fruit.
Snacks and treats are not the only options these new market entrepreneurs offer; the makings of great meals are also on sale. One evening, having earlier found cornmeal from two different vendors—Jennings Bros. Stone Ground Grains and Ernst Farm—I decided to do a taste test,
making two batches using the same cornbread recipe. From a wide selection, I had chosen Jennings Bros. American Cornmeal, a blend of three types and colors of heritage corn grown and milled at their farm in Nashville, Michigan. Ernst Farm’s single offering was a yellow stoneground cornmeal. When baked into a cornbread, both produced a tasty quick bread, but the American blend provided a nuttier, more fully developed corn flavor, truly wonderful paired with a vegetarian stew of roasted poblanos, tomatoes, and yellow-eye beans.
In addition to grains, Ernst Farm sells eggs, meat, and poultry. One evening I paired their pork chops with the Brinery’s Storm Cloud Zapper Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage brightened with beets and ginger ($9/pint). Brinery owner David Klingenberger, an alumnus of Tantré Farm, has turned a fascination with fermented vegetables into a business producing pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. While good straight from the jar, the crunchy sauerkraut was exceptional braised with bacon, apple wedges and those pork chops as the foundation of a lovely autumnal meal.
Earlier in the season I bought a stewing goose from Harnois Farm, a poultry producer. It cost me $18 but yielded three rich dinners and a quart
of rendered fat for frying potatoes. Even better, though, was one of Harnois’ chickens, slowly cooked on the rotisserie, paired with roasted tomatoes, and set atop Pasta e Pasta’s sturdy egg noodles. The chicken was moist and full-flavored, not bland as mass-produced hens are.
The ubiquitous Zingerman name pops up at the Farmers Market in its Creamery incarnation. Oddly, the downtown deli itself doesn’t sell all the cheeses that the Creamery produces, but you usually can find a half dozen choices at the market. This fall I was thrilled to find burrata, a perishable fresh cheese with a mozzarella skin and a creamy curd interior. I served it as part of a light dinner with sliced tomatoes, roasted peppers, fresh shell beans, Kenzoil’s basil-infused garlicky olive oil, and a Mill Pond baguette.
For a dinner party, I paired the Creamery’s City Goat, a $7 round of fresh tangy goat cheese, with grilled hot peppers, mashed sardines and pickled tomatoes to make an impromptu antipasto platter. Tecumseh’s Four Corners Creamery also sells rounds of fresh goat cheese that are milder—and at $5, less expensive—than Zingerman’s.
For those wishing for more than simply the ingredients of a great meal, Pilar’s Tamales is nearly always at the market, and sometimes on Wednesdays you can find other carts offering tempting possibilities. EAT, a catering company started by Helen Harding and Blake Reetz, commissioned a specially made cart from which they sell a variety of hot sandwiches, grilled vegetables, and handmade potato chips, all mostly made from locally sourced products. I tried an utterly delicious $7 Korean-flavored BBQ beef sandwich topped with the Brinery’s kimchi. The Flint Crepe Company’s cart—owned by a group of Flint natives—boasts a large griddle upon which the vendor cooks and fills crepes, sweet or savory, to order. One morning I fortified myself with a $6.50 Walling—eggs, bacon, and cheese rolled into a crepe, wrapped in a paper cone and (presumably) named for Flint mayor Dayne Walling—before I started to shop. And there are often Café Japon’s savory filled crossiants and hot coffee from Roos Roast Free Speech Coffee.
By no means is this a complete list of vendors offering good, local food at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. As noted, some may not appear again until spring, although manager Notarianni expects this winter’s market days will see the most yet. If you’re interested in trying what your neighbors produce, visit the market frequently and Google the vendors you might miss; many also sell their products via the mail or in retail shops. At the height of the season, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market can supply the makings of an entire meal, but it’s a vibrant reflection of Michigan agriculture and entrepreneurship year-round.
[Originally published in December, 2010.]