As most of you know, I live in Grand Rapids, MI. People often ask me why I chose this town when I can live anywhere in the United States, since I work remotely. There are many reasons for liking it here but if I had to name one, it would be my access to an amazing variety of local agricultural products. I am able to cook using almost exclusively local ingredients 365 days a year. This is important not only for the environment and local economy but also for me, since it results in great tasting and nutritious dishes.
Think about it – what do the world’s greatest cuisines have in common? They all use local and seasonal ingredients. If you go to a good restaurant in Rome or Lyon, Paris or Tokyo, Mexico City or Lima you will be served dishes that are made with seasonal ingredients of that area. Once an ingredient is not in season, good luck finding it. This is how they have done it for centuries, this is how they still do it and this is how I grew up eating as a child. I live here because I can continue doing it.
Early spring in upper Midwest is not a time of plenty. Last year fruits and vegetables are either gone or do not taste that great any more. It is also a long way before the new harvest and the abundance of August. However, this last weekend reminded me that even in late April in Michigan one can eat really well without buying ingredients that traveled hundreds or thousand miles.
I left my home office a little earlier on Friday, so that I could visit the Crane Dance farm during their 4-6pm opening hours. I try to go there as often as I can because almost all the meat we eat at our house comes from this farm. I also consider the farmers (Jill and Mary) my friends, so going there allows me to catch up on the latest farm news, chat about my trips and other things that we have no time for at the farmers market, where there is always a long line to their counter.
When I got to the farm on Friday, I was greeted by Mary and, because it has been a while since my last visit, she took me around the farm telling me what happened and what I missed.
New goslings have just arrived from a farm in California:
Many of the sows had piglets:
The cows had calves. Meet Minivan, the proud first time mama.
The farm also has chickens, sheep, guinea fowls, barn cats, dogs, bees and I am sure I am forgetting something else. All animals are raised in humane conditions, well cared for and, when the time comes, are dispatched in the most humane and stress free way possible. This is night and day compared to all industrial and even some smaller scale farms.
While I enjoyed the tour, I also had another reason to be there. I bought some eggs (if you have never had fresh farm eggs, you HAVE to try them), two stewing hens that are great for stocks, stews and curries, and I wanted to pick some stinging nettles for the soup I planned to make over the weekend.
Yes, you read that right. Stinging nettle soup. It is a very old fashioned dish that came out of the necessity and lack of fresh produce in spring. Nettles are one of the first plants to pop out of the ground and they also grow pretty much everywhere. They also happen to be packed with vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. In case you are wondering, they taste like spinach and the soup is best when they are combined with sorrel, which I planned to get from the farmers’ market on Saturday.
The following morning I went to the market that has been operating in Grand Rapids since 1922 and is open year round. While it is still early in the season, there were probably 2 dozen vendors or so, who offered a lot of root vegetables, eggs, milk, cream, cheese, cider, apples, early season greens (lettuces, asparagus, green garlic, ramps, spinach, radishes, arugula, mustard greens, sorrel), rhubarb, fish from the Straits of Mackinac, coffee, ice cream, bread, pasta and morels. Who says you cannot eat well and local at the same time?
After picking up everything I needed from the market, I also stopped by the Nantucket Baking Company for a loaf of San Francisco sour dough, Field and Fire bakery for some croissants that they make in a wood burning oven and JB Russo International Market for some wine. After that all I had to buy from a big chain store was cling wrap and cat litter. Did I say I like Grand Rapids?
With so many great things in the bag, I was really excited about that night’s dinner menu:
- Nettle and sorrel soup, served with cheddar and dill scones
- Fresh egg noodles with wild mushrooms
- Dark chocolate
Different stages of the pasta making process
Do you cook seasonally? What is your spring go to dish? Let me know in the comments