When local farms are turning out such spectacular produce -- heirloom tomatoes, anyone? -- it's easy to overlook a workhorse ingredient like the salad greens from Burning River Farm, a staple item at the farm's Mill City Farmers Market stand every Saturday from May to October. But taking these tender, flavorful and colorful greens for granted would be a big mistake.
For one thing, this mix of five lettuces -- red and green romaine, purple-tinted red sails, the aptly named red salad bowl and crinkle-tipped loma -- tastes nothing like the flavorless, paper-like, boxed greens that supermarkets import from California and elsewhere. Save those dullards for the winter months, take the opportunity to make the most of our over-too-fast growing season and buy local instead. After all, summer won't last forever (the market has, rather unbelievably, just six more Saturdays) and the differences between store-bought and Burning River Farm-raised are immediately apparent.
"Ours are better because they were picked and harvested yesterday morning as the sun was coming up," said the farm's Adrienne Logsdon. She and farmer Mike Noreen cultivate four 200-foot rows of lettuces, harvesting them by crawling on their hands and knees, cutting the plants with a long knife and tossing the greens into large tubs they drag behind them. Weeds get yanked, too. From there, the greens are rinsed by being immersed in cold water. The Frederic, Wis. farm utulizes an unusual salad spinning technique: A minute of intensive moisture-wicking inside a pair of side-by-side washing machines.
"The spin cycle is wearing out on one of them, that's how much lettuce we wash," said Logsdon with a laugh. From there, the greens are bagged into quarter-pound and half-pound bags; some will be sold at the market stand, others go into cardboard boxes reserved for the farm's 220 CSA shareholders.
"It's good to have salad mix in the box," said Logsdon. "People love it."
As a one-time Burning River Farm CSA customer, I can only agree. Wholeheartedly.
Salad greens ($2.50 and $4.50) at Burning River Farm (www.burningriverfarm.com) at the Mill City Farmers Market, Chicago Av. and S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.millcityfarmersmarket.org. Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For a listing of this weekend's farmers market events, go to www.startribune.com/tabletalk. For a map of Twin Cities metro-area farmers markets, go to www.startribune.com/taste.