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The perfect spring tonic

Beautiful heads of lettuce from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, May 18, 2013.

Beautiful heads of lettuce from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, May 2013.

(Originally published May 12, 2013) 

 Back in March I had a yen for some fresh spring greens, and though I had some overwintered spinach and collard greens in my own garden, I thought it would be more fun to visit the winter farmers’ market in Columbia. Since my daughter happened to be home from college and she too loves going to the market, we both made the trip. Our mission was to bring home all the ingredients for a killer spring salad, and I have to say it was accomplished in spades. In fact, the resulting salad was so addictive that I ate two huge bowls of it for dinner and had to stop myself from going back for more. There’s just nothing like a mouthful of leafy, zesty greens to signal that it’s finally the end of winter…or at least it’s getting close. (Unfortunately, we still had two significant snowfalls after that salad day, so spring wasn’t that close!)

We stopped by almost every booth in the market, first picking up bags of arugula, mixed spring lettuce, and some dried strawberries at the first booth, Sellmeyer Farm. As we wandered along we found other ingredients from Share-Life Farms, Happy Hollow Farm (both certified organic CSAs), and others: fresh baby spinach, a bundle of spring onions, and another bag of mixed young salad greens including tender red mustard leaves, which I love. Liz Graznak at the Happy Hollow booth was generous with advice, trying to help me figure out why my golden beets did so poorly last year (we’re thinking it may have been bad seed), and had some pretty cool t-shirts and other merchandise for sale to boot, created by popular demand for her CSA members.

Of course we had to sample one or two baked goods since we hadn’t had breakfast—right? We couldn’t resist seeing what persimmon pudding tastes like (much like a steamed Christmas pudding, as it turns out), or trying a gluten-free carrot bran muffin from Senza Gluten Free Foods. Though I’ve been straying from the gluten-free lifestyle more often than not lately, I’m always glad to find a good source of GF baked goods that aren’t highly processed and have good flavor and texture, and that carrot muffin got thumbs up from my daughter and me on all counts.

The only booth we didn’t get to was a business we frequent year-round, Crocker Farms, just because they had a line of folks waiting to buy their top-grade natural pork. Deanna and Jim Crocker own and operate the farm that’s been in their family for generations in Centralia, Missouri, and like most farmers I know, they’re super-nice people who are a pleasure to do business with. And their pork just tastes different than the stuff you can buy in stores—leaner but more flavorful. We have packs of their bacon and sausage in our freezer all the time, and we buy a quarter of a pig from them once or twice a year. I was sad to realize as I pulled out of the parking lot that we’d never gotten back to their booth to say hello as we’d intended.

OK, here’s the recipe for the salad and dressing that I plan to prepare again and again now that the salad greens are once again hitting the spring markets. This particular blend of super-fresh greens mixed with dried strawberries, walnuts, green onions, and my own raspberry/walnut dressing was exactly the spring tonic I needed, and now that fresh strawberries are in season they’re the perfect final touch.

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