Green City Market has released a cookbook, which may seem like a normal thing to do, but like the market itself and all food that is produced and supplied outside of the normal supply chain, it is a revolutionary act. I review the cookbook and hope that its existence helps the casual market goer’s awareness of their own revolutionary acts in the food world deepen so we can continue to put Chicago on the food map not just for our top tier restaurants, but also for our sustainability.
In the past couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to some far flung places (Melbourne, Montreal, Seattle, New York) and some not so distant towns (Detroit, Milwaukee). One thing I seek at every location is a farmers market. They have good local produce, usually some food trucks to get lunch from, and tons of entertainment that ranges from actual musicians to really goofy dogs and impressive toddler meltdowns. As I visited each town, I couldn’t help but notice that they all seemed to have a larger farmers market tradition than ours. Even Detroit, a town that turns off its main street lights at night to save on the power bill, has the colossal and impressive Eastern Market.
So it made me wonder, why has Chicago been content with the smaller neighborhood markets? It may have a lot to do with Chicago being a neighborhood kind of town since many native Chicagoans rarely set foot outside of their own ward. But farmers I have spoken to admit they run from one market to another sharing their wares on different days. Having a big central market might be more practical for everyone. And it’s not as if there aren’t dozens of empty warehouses and old meat packing buildings in Chicago’s downtown, south side, west loop and west side begging for the love of a city budget or a forward-thinking developer to come rehab them into the perfect roofed open air farmers market.
But Green City Market‘s founder Abby Mandel and friends could not wait for Chicago’s twisted leadership (which values tourists above actual tax paying residents) to set that up for us. So she went and did it herself in the open air, the way nature intended for vegetables to be exchanged for currency. And Chicagoans show up in droves every Wednesday and Saturday looking for the goods year after year at Chicago’s most substantial market.
It’s nice when a cookbook has a little history in it, and Green City Market Cookbook (published by Agate Publishing) was happy to oblige with a foreword by long-time supporter of the market, Rick Bayless. He talks about how Abby Mandel started the market and almost gave up on it before it began to thrive but was fired up again when local chefs rallied together to support her vision.
Then the book launches right into the seasons, by which the recipes are thoughtfully divided. You won’t see a pumpkin recipe in summer or an asparagus recipe in the winter. It was designed to honor the seasonal arc of produce consumption that all farmers markets thrive on. Of course, the book also touts regional, fresh and the Midwest, and that is fine by me because the recipes are soon trotted out, making me vow to head to the market this very Saturday.
The recipes themselves seem approachable for the beginner cook, minus occasionally requiring a few gadgets like immersion blenders. Some recipes are simple and familiar, like Spring Peas with Mint, Grilled Portobello Steak and Potato Salad, Tofu Stir Fry with Ginger and Bell Peppers and Sunday Dinner Club Market Burger (basically a grilled burger with some dressed up sauce and bun) and others a bit more exotic, like Tilapia Ceviche with Corn and Seasonal Herbs. This range of complexity is not surprising when you consider that the contributors are not just chefs but also vendors, farmers and customers. But all have recognizable and fresh ingredients combined with mouthwatering food photography.
Although not every ingredient for every recipe could be purchased at the farmers market, the things that can’t be found there tend to be pantry items. Perhaps the next step for Green City Market would be to design an app so that I don’t have to write a shopping list straight out of the hardcover cookbook before I head out to the market. But that might not fit in with their mission statement, and for the simpler recipes it isn’t really a big issue. For example, this Saturday at the farmers market as I stared at tables full of strawberries, I recalled the very first recipe in the book, Farmstand Strawberry Jam with Balsamic, Rosemary & Mint. My pantry had balsamic and sugar and my garden had mint and rosemary, so I picked up 2 pounds of strawberries and made the jam that day. It will stay fresh for two weeks in the refrigerator but at the rate my family is consuming it I don’t foresee an issue with freshness. It’s the best jam I’ve ever had, and “more strawberry than strawberries themselves” was the feedback I received.