For her latest cookbook, author Beth Dooley finds inspiration aplenty in the state’s farmers markets.
“If we are what we eat, then regular trips to the farmers markets help us learn not just who but where we are, in time and place,” writes Beth Dooley in “Minnesota’s Bounty” (University of Minnesota Press, $29.95), her richly observed paean to the state’s farmers markets and the small-scale farmers that make them possible.
For her eighth cookbook, Dooley celebrates the wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, cheeses, meats and poultry (vividly depicted by Minneapolis photographer Mette Nielsen) available to local shoppers, then channels each ingredient into original, accessible and appealing cooking ideas.
In a recent conversation, Dooley, a frequent Taste contributor, discussed her introduction to farmers markets, shared shopping strategies and revealed her surprising — given her occupation — aversion to recipes.
Q: You write, “Every farmers market is a glorious Mardi Gras that engages our senses and lifts our spirits.” Where does that full-throttle enthusiasm come from?
A: When I first moved to Minneapolis from New Jersey 30 years ago, I was really lonely. I kind of stumbled into the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and I couldn’t believe how exciting it was. I’d never been to the kind of venue — at least not in my adult life — where I could talk to the person who handed me his carrots. His hands looked like carrots, and he could tell me how to cook them. When I was a kid I did that with my grandmother along the Jersey shore, we’d stop at farm stands. I realized that I really missed that kind of interaction.
And the market is such a rush of color, and smells, and activity, and people bumping into each other. I’m always surprised by what I find, and it’s different every week. It became the thing that I do on my Saturday mornings. It was the way I got to know the area and its food.
Q: What makes for a successful farmers market?
A: We shop with our eyes, so look for the farmers that are savvy to that, the ones that put their best stuff out and are willing to engage with people and talk about farming practices. That connotes that the farmer is happy with what they’re doing.
Knowing that it’s locally grown — and not coming off a truck from California — is a good thing. With hoop house technologies, we’ll be seeing early greens right away — that’s exciting. And as afraid as we all are of climate change, we’re also seeing things we’ve never seen before in this area. Later this season we’ll see ginger, for example, and it’s wonderful.
Q: Do you have any farmers market shopping strategies?
A: Always bring a bag, and leave the shopping list at home. Keep the dog at home, but bring the kids. It’s always good to bring cash. I always like to grab a coffee and walk the market first to get a sense of what’s out there. Part of it is to just slow down a bit. It’s not charging into the grocery store. It’s better to go in with an open mind and being OK with that.
Q: Why no shopping list?
A: It goes along with my feelings about why I love having a CSA [community-supported agriculture, a crop share]. I’m forced to respond to what’s there. I may have an idea that I want to make a soup, for example, and I’m pretty sure peas are in, but then you get there and the peas don’t look good, but the lettuces do. So you’ll tweak your plan, and you’ll soup the lettuces rather than the peas.
It’s about not being so strident, about not assuming that you’ll always find what you want at the market but instead letting the food that’s currently coming out of the ground inform what you’re cooking.