Market Days are Fresh on the Menu in Hilton Head Island!

Market Days are Fresh on the MenuFresh Spinach at the market

Growing up in South Carolina, a Saturday trip to the farmers market was an outing that I always looked forward to: picking out seedling plants for our own garden and a couple of bunches of colorful greens in spring; thumping a watermelon or two and picking a basket of perfect peaches in summer; choosing a Halloween pumpkin in fall; and selecting an evergreen tree and fresh wreath for the holidays. The big commercial farms shipped out their crates of produce off the side and front but Saturday mornings were strictly set aside for the small, local farmers to sell their homegrown crops and sideline products like fruit syrups, honey, preserves and boiled peanuts. The area farmers would back their trucks up neatly under the metal stalls and set up shop pretty much every Saturday once the weather warmed and early crops like lettuces, asparagus, peas, turnips, carrots, radishes and, of course strawberries and rhubarb, were ripe.

Farmers MarketOpening day for the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market is Saturday, April 1.

Going local is still important to me, not only because every dollar spent with a local farmer circulates within the community many times before leaving, unlike those spent a grocery store, which leaves immediately, but also because the produce or ingredient that was picked today tastes so much better than the one picked a week ago in Latin America. And it’s fun to go the farmers market to boot. You can talk to the farmer who grew what you will be having for dinner tonight! If you are like me, your head will be spinning with recipe ideas and your back seat overflowing with bags of vegetables and baskets of fruit.Opening day for the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market is Saturday, April 1.

In the Lowcountry, farmers markets have been popping up over the last few years and beginning April 1, Hilton Head Island locals and visitors will finally have their very own open-air farmers market centrally located at historic Honey Horn. With opening day just around the corner, Pamela Ovens, who is co-manager of the market along with Gail Lippard Horvath, has been busy visiting local farms, meeting with farmers and local vendors, and setting up a fact-laden web site. Pamela and Gail also recently returned from a Community Based Farmers Market Workshop sponsored by the SC Agriculture Department where they learned about marketing their markets emphasizing social media and networked with managers of the almost 100 farmers markets located in SC. They are certainly “getting all their ducks in a row” to ensure this farmers market is a success. The market’s lovely logo is a truly a work of art as well – designed by local artist and SCAD professor, Linda Warner Constantino, who also happens to be a cousin of famed restaurateur and sustainable foods advocate, Alice Waters. Good company to keep, indeed!

The criteria for farmers selling produce at the market follow strict guidelines. Pamela said, “All of the produce sold at the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market will have been grown within 100 miles of the Island. None of our farmers are ‘reselling’ produce grown elsewhere.” Some of the farmers and purveyors participating include Bear Island Farm, Benny Hudson’s Seafood, Bluffton Oyster Company, Brant Family Farms, Brickyard Point Farms, Honeydew Farms, Three Sisters Farm, Rest Park Farm, Soloman Campbell, Samuel Campbell, James F. Long Farm and Moon Thyme Garden & Nursery.

It is anticipated that early season veggies like radishes, carrots, leafy lettuces, onions, spinach and bok choy will be for sale on Opening Day as well as seedling plants for your own garden. You can find out about which crops are coming into harvest from each farmer as well as get information about their growing methods and ask questions about their farms.  Additionally local vendors including The Cottage, Midnight Bakers, Frali Gourmet, Palm Key Catering & Events, Castra Rota Gourmet Foods and other local favorites will be on hand providing sustenance to get your market groove going early – it all starts at 8:30 am on Saturday, April 1. The market ends at 1 pm and will be held every Saturday through October. Be sure to check out the Farmers Market website to get the most up-to-date farmer and vendor listing!

Spinach Risotto (my rift on the Spring Green Risotto from the New Basics Cookbook)

Spinach Risotto

Spinach Risotto

2 tbl. olive oil
½  cup finely chopped onion (I also use leeks occasionally instead of onion)
1 tbl. minced garlic
1 cup Arborio rice
3 ½ cups of chicken stock (homemade preferred)
2 ½ – 3 cups fresh spinach, washed, dried and chopped
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme or ½ tsp. dry thyme
½ cp. Mascarpone cheese
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese plus extra to top each serving
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and add the onion and garlic and cook until softened – about 4-5 minutes. Then add the rice, stir and cook another few minutes.

Meanwhile heat the stock in a saucepan to a boil, then reduce heat and keep at a simmer.

Slowly add about 1 cup hot stock to the rice, stirring constantly. Continue to stir allowing the rice to absorb the stock. Add about ½ cup more stock stirring well until all the stock has been absorbed. Do this step again. Add the thyme and the spinach and ½ cup more stock. Keep stirring. Keep adding stock ½ cup at a time until all is absorbed (the total cooking time should be about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in Mascarpone cheese and Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with more grated Parmesan, if desired and serve immediately. Serves 4.