Western New Yorkers love their farmers' markets, and they are loyal to them. When we asked readers to tell us about their favorite places to shop, we got hymns of praise.
"I frequent the Farmers' Market in North Tonawanda," wrote Jeffrey Harbridge of that city. "Once spring is in full swing, the church parking lot at the corner of Payne Avenue and Robinson Street is buzzing with activity. It's always a great place to see old friends not seen since November. I visit the market regularly on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and patiently await the arrival of hot pepper season" in late August.
Cynthia Koren May of East Aurora e-mailed about that village's market:
"Bright and early on Saturday mornings, my friends and I meet at the market parking lot with tote bags in hand to buy everything from homemade pasta and baked goods to the very best blueberries in Western New York. They are grown at the top of Cooper Hill in Humphrey, by the Childs family and family members . . . not only berries but also jam/jellies, pastries and blueberry wine . . . I typically buy enough blueberries to freeze so that I can have blueberry pie during the winter."
Julie Eastland wrote that she likes to go to the Kenmore Farmers' Market, at the village green on Saturdays: "I go there because it is close to where I live and is part of my community. I'm happy to know I am buying local produce and supporting local farming.
"All the farmers are friendly and helpful. In fact, they usually have recipes for things that I wouldn't know about, like kohlrabi which I discovered at the market last year and which was delicious. I go to market all season and go for berries and peas at the beginning to heirloom tomatoes and fresh sweet corn in midsummer and to New York State apples and squash at the end. My only wish is that the growing season was longer here."
None of this is surprising, since the farmers' market movement is growing so fast both nationwide (where it's more than doubled since 1994) and locally. In Western New York, farmers' markets are sprouting in small communities and neighborhoods like mushrooms after the rain. The very newest opened this year in Williamsville and at UB's South Campus.
Market sizes vary; some offer only local product and some go farther afield. Some offer entertainment and some do not. Smaller markets tend to be open only one day a week, usually Saturday.
For a rundown on some of them, go to www.agmkt.state.ny.us. Then just drop in and take your time. The earlier in the day the better for wide selection. Before buying, make a slow loop around the market and see what's what.
Bring cash -- bills in small denominations are most welcome, although some markets participate in the WIC and food stamp programs. And bring your own containers if you can, especially if they are reusable. (Even though most growers can supply plastic bags, we're concerned about the environment, too.)
Don't be afraid to try new things no matter how weird they look. Ask questions. Most growers are happy to give cooking information and recipes, too.
And, here's the most important tip: Use your purchases right away, or store them quickly in a cool place, all the better to preserve the fresh taste and quality you've worked so hard to get.
And what do you do with all the good stuff you've bought? A better question is what don't you do? The simplest techniques are usually best -- don't cover up the taste.
Barbara Hoskyns, a devotee of the Alden Market -- she describes it as "a small town farmers' market with a very homey atmosphere" -- makes fresh potato salad with the red-skin potatoes she finds there. It boasts some quirky ingredients, too. See the recipe that follows.
Jeff Ehlinger of Orchard Park patronizes the Clinton-Bailey Market and buys medium red onions there. "At this time of year, there are new staples in the fridge like the ever-present pitcher of brewed sweet tea and jars of pickled onions (awesome on sandwiches)," he says. See recipe that follows.
It's getting near cucumber season, so you might try Kenmore resident Dennis Blackley's Ice Box Pickles. The recipe came from his wife's sister in Illinois.
"No cooking is involved," he wrote, "and I can make a gallon in five minutes. You'll love them and they keep forever in the refrigerator."
Also, with blueberry season upon us, do try the Blueberry Pie recipe.
>Jeff's Pickled Onions
2 medium red onions
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons mixed peppercorns
Combine water and vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat, whisk in the salt and the sugar and bring mixture to a boil.
Slice the onions very thin and pack into two 16-ounce wide mouth canning jars. Sprinkle in peppercorns (1 teaspoon per jar) while layering onions.
Pour boiling vinegar mixture over onions and cap jars. Store in the refrigerator for several weeks. ("If you don't eat them all before then.")
Recipe from Jeff Ehlinger of Orchard Park.
>Verna's Ice Box Pickles
2 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup canning or kosher salt
1 1/3 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/3 teaspoons celery seed
1 1/3 teaspoons mustard seed
2 medium onions, sliced thin
Enough round cucumbers for half a gallon, sliced thin,do not peel
Place a layer of onions in a half-gallon jar and continue layering cucumbers and onion until the jar is full. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour into the jar. (Do not heat these ingredients.)
Place the jar in the refrigerator and turn the jar over every day for seven days. "Will keep forever in the refrigerator." Maskes half a gallon.
Recipe from Dennis Blackley of Kenmore.
>Barbara Hoskyns' Potato Salad
Medium red skin potatoes
Hard boiled eggs
Sliced sweet pepper
Sliced onion, optional
Brown mustard (like Gulden's)
Mayonnaise (like Hellman's)1
Boil potatoes until just soft, peel and put into cold water. When cold, drain and cut into chunks.
Add sliced eggs, olives, celery, sweet peppers and onions if desired. Pour the olive juice into these ingredients and toss.
Mix a little mustard, sour cream and mayonnaise. Add to ingredients. Toss. ("Tastes best the day it is made.")
Recipe from Barbara Hoskyns of Alden.
>Janice's Blueberry Pie
1 quart blueberries
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 baked pie shell
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional
Mix half of the blueberries, flour, butter, salt and lemon juice together in a heavy saucepan. Add the sugars. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Do not add liquid.
Cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool and stir in the remaining blueberries. Fill pie shell and chill. When ready to serve, if desired, top with whipped cream or ice cream. (The best blueberry pie in the entire world.)