Boulder Farmers' Market, week fourteen: Corn, creativity and eggplant (with recipe)
It's clear when I arrive at the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday that summer has finally and emphatically arrived. Fronds of dill have given way to long seed stalks. The peaches are profoundly welcome, but no longer the brilliant surprise they were last week. Not many field tomatoes yet -- though I notice a few at Aspen Moon -- but there's loads of squash everywhere; peppers, both hot and sweet, are piled on stands; I find big, shiny eggplants, bunches of rainbow chard and, best of all, the year's first corn at Miller Farms. When I cook a few ears for dinner later, tossing them into boiling water for not more than a minute, I find that though the kernels are small, the taste is wonderfully sweet and fresh.
It's so hot that the farmers are already sweating at 8:30 in the morning, and the folks at Street Fare -- the bakery that helps support the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless -- are setting out only a few of their delicious miniature cupcakes at a time so they'll sell before the icing starts to melt.
This week I'm thinking about all the creative ways local farmers find to stay afloat -- pumpkin patches, mazes, kids' days, petting areas -- and the fascinating, one-of-a-kind products they come up with to distinguish their farms and lure customers. The season is short in Colorado, which means most farmstands will have the same produce to sell at the same time. So Anne Cure of Cure Farms brings to market beautiful, hand-dyed wool from her own sheep; Karen Beeman carries dozens of kinds of garlic, each one carefully marked; you can hang a string of Sue Parsons's plump, glossy shallots in the kitchen and use them all year long. And John Ellis sells his own home-ground flour.
Spencer Dew with his loofah soap.
A farmer who has since left the market used to bring ostrich meat and eggs big enough to feed ten people each. And then there's Spencer Dew of Dew Farms and the beautiful array of jewel soaps on his stand, each containing a slice of loofah. Dew has been growing loofah and making soap with it for nine years now, and selling the soap along with farm vegetables.
It isn't easy, he tells me: "Loofah doesn't grow here very well. The first year we planted it didn't grow at all, so we started breeding. It's a beautiful plant with a flat, five-petal yellow flower == absolutely beautiful. We finally got the tight knit loofahs we wanted; it took four to five years." Made by Dew's wife, the soaps are scented with lemon verbena, coconut lavender, ruby red grapefruit, cucumber, honey almond and lilac.
Dew also sells chunks of loofah that can be used in place of a brush to scrub vegetables. The family uses these on the produce they bring to market. "It's cool," says Dew. "It's using one vegetable to wash another."
It would take more than the difficulties of growing loofah plants to faze the Dew family. "I can trace my family back to 1086 in England, the Doomsday Book," Dew says. "We've always been farmers --parents, grandparents, twelve generations -- and we've always farmed naturally." He also has a philosophical attitude toward drought: "We've been farming long enough that this year, when others were talking about cutting back on their crops, we didn't. We figured if you don't plant it, you can't harvest it. Farming is a risk and it goes from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. Winter is the only time you can sleep."
He himself had retired from growing wheat and corn when his son Aaron asked for help with his vegetables. Dew immediately complied. "Can you imagine a farmer retiring?" he asks. He enjoys the work and meeting customers who buy into their CSA or shop at the various markets they attend. Best of all is working with his son: "It's one of the greatest things you can do as a parent."
The family's creativity doesn't stop with loofah soap. "We like to grow odd stuff," Dew says. "Aaron grows giant pumpkins -- 1000-pound pumpkins. We grew peanuts and that was wildly successful. But cotton was a total failure. Whether it's a success or a failure, you still learn something and you still have fun."
Keep reading for an eggplant recipe.