Monday, May 7, 2012

What's in Season?

I had a conversation with a customer the other day about our local farmer's market. I haven't been yet this year, and to be honest neglected it horribly last year, only going a handful of times. Michigan is a fantastic place for fresh produce! Our unique peninsular state nestled between so many large bodies of fresh water, and being riddled with countless rivers (Michigan's surface area is 41.5% water) all make up for some very fertile land! Even our allegedly harsh winters contribute to good farming. 

But back to the customer. She told me that the farmer's market was woefully under-staffed. Only the winter goods (yes, ours is open year round) were available, things like handsewn bags, knitted caps and scarves, and freshly baked bread. Where were the fresh green and spring vegetables? the customer wondered. It occurred to me at that moment that I really didn't know what produce was even normally available at this time of year. So I decided to look it up.

It turns out that we should start seeing arugula and its fellow leafy green, chard. Both are high in vitamin C, which surprised me to learn. I guess I have been brainwashed by the citrus industry to accept that orange juice is the best source of this essential nutrient. I'm glad to hear I don't need to rely on citrus. I'd much rather munch on chard chips than choke down an acidic glass of OJ. And arugula makes for a great pizza topping!

Strawberry rhubarb pie is
quite popular.
(This pic is clipart.)
Also available in May in Michigan are carrots, certain varieties of lettuce, radishes, spinach, rhubarb (which I still have yet to try, despite growing up with it in our family garden), different herbs, and parsnip should have come up last month. 

Parsnip is another Michigan favorite that I don't think I have ever tasted. I didn't know until I researched them how much in common the parsnip has with carrots, only that it was a root vegetable. I believe I have some recipes for roasted parsnips, which I should give a try since I already know I very much enjoy roasted carrots. Parsnip also turns out to be a close relative of parsley, and I've touted the wonders of parsley numerous times in this blog. Wikipedia did include this warning, however: 
While the root of the parsnip is edible, the handling of its shoots and leaves require protective clothing. ...[T]the parsnip contains furanocoumarin, a photosensitive chemical that causes a condition known as phytophotodermatitis. The condition is a type of chemical burn rather than an allergic reaction and should be treated as such.
So if you grow parsnip, be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves when handling it. 

Remember, eating local foods means fresher, healthier produce on your plate, plus less environmental impact. With less steps between farm and kitchen, there is less opportunity for your food to be contaminated. Buying local also helps support your community and preserve green spaces in your area. 

Hopefully soon I can get to a local farmers market, maybe even one of the other local markets, like Ypsi's, which is located at the old train station in Depot Town. (I just think that is an awesome location.) The Detroit Eastern Market is also a huge goal of mine, but I am usually working on the days that it is open. Boo!


  1. > Both [arugula and chard] are high in vitamin C, which surprised me to learn. […] And arugula makes for a great pizza topping!

    Well, don't get too excited.

    For an adult woman such as yourself who does not smoke and is not pregnant or nursing, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is seventy-five milligrams daily — and many researchers think that even that is too low, since it's based on what you need to avoid acute vitamin C deficiency, rather than what you need to promote optimum health and prevent chronic disease — but anyway, I'll stick to seventy-five milligrams daily for purposes of this comment. (See, by the way, for much more information, including RDAs for people who don't match my above characterization of you. You actually have the lowest of RDA of any group over the age of nineteen.)

    According to the USDA, one cup of raw arugula gives you three milligrams of vitamin C, so to meet your RDA for a single day, you'd need to eat twenty-five cups of it. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to find information on how much vitamin C you'd absorb from lightly cooked arugula eaten together with fat — I'm not even sure whether it would be greater or less than for raw arugula (since according to LIVESTRONG.COM, some nutrients in arugula go one way, some the other, and I'm not sure which category vitamin C is in) — but it's safe to say that it would not increase it enough to significantly change the equation here. Hypothetically speaking, if your only source of vitamin C were an entire pizza's arugula topping, once a day, I believe that you would literally end up with scurvy. (You actually don't need anywhere near your RDA to prevent scurvy — I haven't found a single source that assembles the data and gives a single explicit value, but I gather that somewhere around ten milligrams of vitamin C a day will prevent scurvy — but even ten milligrams is well beyond what you could expect from arugula as a pizza topping.) And I'm very serious about the "lightly cooked" part; any significant cooking time would certainly cause the vitamin C to break down, so if you like to make pizza with a very thin crust then you might not lose so much of it, but otherwise you would need to add the arugula very late, when the pizza is almost done cooking, which seems like a bit of a headache. Though it probably tastes better that way, anyway. :-)

    By contrast, a single cup of refrigerated orange juice — just eight ounces — will give you more than eighty-three milligrams of vitamin C, which is more than your entire RDA for one day.

    1. I believe when using arugula, or any leafy green, as a pizza topping, you are supposed to put it on just as you remove the pizza from the oven. That way it isn't really cooked, more like steamed for a few moments as the pizza cools, which makes it less mushy and probably preserves more of its inherent nutritional values.

      I enjoy finding other things with vitamin C or other such nutrients so I can sprinkle my diet with those rather than citrus. I am not allergic to citrus, and I am not as bothered by it as other people I know (some in the same gene pool), but I do find drinking OJ often uncomfortable. I much prefer tangerine juice, or even pure blood orange juice because blood oranges tend to be sweeter than other orange, and have, to me, more flavor. Though I think the crop this year must have been bad because every blood orange I've had has been quite bitter and tough. The tangerines have been the same with a very thick, sometimes shriveled rind. I don't think this will be a good year for a lot of fruits due to the lack of snow this past winter.

    2. Re: putting the arugula on the pizza as you pull it out of the oven: Yeah, that makes sense. :-)

      Re: other things rather than citrus: Yeah, you said that in the post . . . I wasn't trying to promote OJ, or detract from arugula, I just wanted a basis of comparison. A fairly small amount of OJ will meet your RDA for a given day, whereas it would take an unrealistically ginormous amount of arugula to do the same. In fact, if you did eat that much arugula, I'd start to worry about the negative consequences that such quantities might have.