Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bugs and Berries

Summer in Wisconsin is about brats, cheese curds, and beer, but it's also about eating fresh foods right from the fields.

We went strawberry picking on Sunday at a farm just west of Janesville. The picking was amazing: two people, a combined 20 feet of a row of berry plants, and 30 minutes = about 16 pounds of beautiful, delicious berries.

The other reason we went to Janesville was to see the cicadas. I've grown up hearing about the 17-year periodical cicadas in northern Illinois and didn't want to miss seeing some for myself. I've never really been a bug person, despite my young fascination with those movies of the insides of giant termite colonies, so I didn't really want to see the crazy "sweep them out of your path with a broom" masses of cicadas. But I didn't want to miss them entirely.

There weren't any cicadas in evidence at the farm where we picked the berries but just a few miles east at the Cook Arboretum we got out of the car and could hear the cicadas right away! I'd post video if I were savvy enough to figure out how to do that but photos will have to be enough for now. The sound was thrilling though. I'd heard that the sounds of these masses of cicadas were enough to drown out a conversation and that the Chicago Symphony's Ravinia schedule has been altered this year because the sound of the insects would actually interfere with the sounds of concerts.

Since we didn't have the masses of cicadas in Janesville that are present in some areas of Chicagoland (indeed it took us awhile to actually spot any bugs at all) the loud volume of the sound from the few cicadas in the arboretum was impressive. You could hear two layers in the sound: one dry, scratchy sound and then the constant pitched drone.

The cicadas themselves are pretty cute, especially their eyes. See what I mean? But the most amazing thing about these insects comes when you start to think of the scale of their lives, emerging from the ground to do their thing in seventeen-year cycles: 2007, 1990, 1973, 1956, 1939, 1922, 1905... The next time I'll get to see them will be in 2021. Wow.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Farmers' Market

As I prepare to move away from my dearly-beloved city of Madison I am trying to cram as much Madison as I can into my last few weeks here. Hence my lack of recent posting - too much to do (paint the deck, work in the garden, pack boxes, eat asparagus) and so little time!

It doesn't get much more Madison than a Saturday morning at Farmers' Market on the square (where does that possessive apostrophe go anyway? There are multiple farmers at the market, so I'm putting it there).

To top off last Saturday's Farmers' Market it was also "Cows on the Concourse." Does it get any better than this? I don't think so. Fresh cheese curds, a cool morning, content cows, the crowded counter-clockwise shuffle, and bags of produce to take home.

Here's a recipe for my favorite spring market soup from the May 4, 2002 Harmony Valley Farm CSA newsletter:

"Simple Green Soup"
2 T. butter or veg oil
1 small, diced onion
1 lb. peeled and diced sunchokes (also known as a "jerusalem artichoke" thru some awkward and historic pronunciation language gap between Italian and English. You could use other root veggies like potatoes but I strongly recommend getting sunchokes if you can since their flavor is superior)
4 cups water or broth
1 bunch nettles (or you can use sorrel or watercress, but I absolutely prefer the nettles - just wash them well to get rid of the sting)

Saute your onions in the butter until translucent. Add sunchokes and broth. Bring to boil and simmer 15 min or until sunchokes are soft enough to yield to pressure from a fork or knife. Add the nettles and the heat of the broth should wilt them. Puree until smooth with an immersion stick blender or use a food processor (but go in small batches, trust me).

Option: add some cream or half 'n' half at the end for a creamy soup. And/or add a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper for a little extra warmth.

Serve with fresh bread and fresh cheese curds on the side and you've got a lovely spring market meal. So good.