You don't have to look too closely to see smiles on the faces of Maryland farmers. A visit to your favorite farmers market will show you all you need to know: table after table of fresh produce and protein. We've had a nice spring with just enough warmth and a fair amount of rain, so, Chef Jerry Pellegrino says, it's a great time for Marylanders to go shopping.
I visited my local farmers market this week and was delighted with the variety of food available so early in the spring.
The first thing that caught me eye were the mushrooms. My favorites, the morels, won't be along for a few more weeks, but listen to what you can get. Big meaty portobellos are here as are that wonderful favorite the crimini. Oyster mushrooms with their quirky shapes are available as are their brown topped cousin the king oyster mushroom. The bizarre lion's mane mushroom is out there, looking like a ball of white yarn. The intriguing maitake or hen-of-the-woods are in season as are the very conventional shitake. And if you've never seen them, you're bound to be enchanted by the tiny nameko mushoom, which seem to be sort of a "bonsai" member of the family.
Spring is the perfect time for herbs, both freshly cut, or potted for planting in your garden. I spotted cilantro, several varieties of thyme, tarragon, mint, rosemary and sage. And I'm told that more are on the way.
Of course spring is asparagus season, and our farmers are not shirking their duty. You can shop for big old fat stalks of asparagus or the skinny little ones that cook up so quickly.
Leafy greens of all sorts are back. Two or three kinds of kale are on the market tables as are collard greens and the tangy mustard greens. Farms like Gardner's Gourmet are harvesting their high tunnels for a wide variety of high quality salad greens including their celebrated mesclun mix.
Speaking of leafy greens, this is a wonderful time for spinach. You can find the mild flavored baby spinach or the far more flavorful mature spinach with its broad dark green leaves.
Staple veggies such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and green beans a in abundance, as are sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, parsnips and a multitude of potatoes including the small white creamers.
If you're in the mood to get your garden started, many farmers have small little potted plants for sale. I found cauliflower, sprouts, various lettuces, cabbages and tomatoes. And all those herbs I just mentioned are available for planting as well.
Believe it or not, last autumn's apples are still available. Orchard men like Dave Hocheimer know exactly how to keep them fresh over winter. And I was delighted to see big baskets of the variety called Ambrosia, which are perfect for making apple pie, without needing any sugar whatsoever.
Finally, when you're shopping for proteins don't overlook lamb. The Woolsey Farm has beautiful boneless leg of lamb ready to go, as well as their super useful ground lamb.
Fans of heritage breed pork make a beeline for Liberty Delight Farms where Shane Hughes will sell you big fat pork chops made from the Berkshire hog. If you haven't tried them, the Berkshire chop is the most flavorful and moistest chop you'll ever taste.