I realize I have unusual habits, but I was not the only person who got to the farmer’s market on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, at 6 am last Saturday. A gaggle was already there at what is often recognized as one of the best farmer’s markets in America.
Mind you, in that part of the country the sun is up this time of year around 5:15 am. By six, it already seems like the afternoon.
This particular Spring morning, it was chilly and brisk. The weather did not stop the customers or the vendors.
As we approached the Dane County farmer’s market, which occurs every Saturday from 6 am – 2 pm, mid-April until November, in Madison, Wisconsin’s Capitol Square, we were struck by the beauty of the Capitol Dome and its proximity to us.
It is quite a grand structure yet placed in the middle of town surrounded by an easy Wisconsin Avenue which allows you access to all parts of the square. It was incredible how the market vendors lined themselves up all around Wisconsin Avenue, encircling the dome.
Like ants surrounding a big watermelon.What an amazing sight and experience to walk around the State Capitol choosing local Wisconsin cheese, hunting honey, assessing asparagus and searching for spring onions.
It is not that I am an old woman, but let me tell you I have been around the block. I have been around that block twice, in fact, gazing at the tantalizing tulips and mysterious morels.
I gaped at the Gourd Guy. Never in my life did I wish more for a kitchen.
I could imagine myself skipping home, basket in hand, chopping morels, sautéing them in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt, tossing with minced spring onions until caramelized. I would buy a loaf or two from the Madison Sourdough Company, cube them and fry into croutons or steam the slices and then spoon morel-and-onion goodness on top, devoured easily with tea on such a chilly spring day.
But alas, I had a hotel room and no vase for the vibrant long-stem tulips that greeted me. Walking home for me would mean two armfuls of flowers and a backpack full of vegetables.
Of course, there will not be morels, onions, tulips and asparagus all year round. Morels are only available for two magical weeks in the springtime, other vegetables and flowers only “pop up” when they come into season.
(Note: In Wisconsin, the soil is dark — very dark. If you live out West or in the South this is an anomaly. Where I live we have sand or clay or brown soil or red, RED Georgia clay. I bring this up because vegetables that grow in that rich, fertile, black soil taste rich and fertile, full and vibrant.)
Wisconsin vegetables taste like vegetables should taste.
So that day we couldn’t cook what we found. But we devoured with our eyes. We made ourselves full.
To check out more of the Dane County Farmers’ Market check out this video by Veronica Narang
We did choose sourdough brioche and cinnamon rolls. We ate those on the spot. Too excited to drink coffee (despite the hour and the wind-chill) we walked past the coffee cart. Besides, how could you hold coffee when your arms are full of flowers?
In Wisconsin, the major exports are beer, ginseng (!) and cheese. So we saw cheese. And more cheese.
Geez, there was cheese! We tasted cheese curds — something new! Cheese curds are the by-products of cheese production. They are soft and round and delicious – and you can get cheese curds in just about any variety of cheese that is produced. Ben ate small golden yellow cheddar curds. He said they were “good enough as far as cheese curds go” – but that was a sardonic assessment since that was his first taste.
All in all, we loved the square. We loved the market. This is obviously going to be my new place to go. I am not sure that I will save a lot of money shopping there.
The weekly pre-dawn commute from Atlanta is really going to cost me.
* Editor’s note: Leslie will now be free to go to the Dane County farmer’s market every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn to buy as many vegetables and flowers as she wants. Since submitting this piece, she has found out that she and her family will be relocating to Madison, Wisconsin in the next few weeks. Humm… come to think about it, I had noticed she was spending quite a bit of time there.