Perhaps best known for its pick-your-own raspberry patch, the Blue Skies Berry Farm has also been a vendor at the in Chicago. Now, they are concentrating their energies on the Madison area, working the downtown market on Saturdays, the Eastside Farmers' Market on Tuesdays, and the Fitchburg Farmers' Market on Thursdays.
Paul Maki spoke to The Daily Page about his farm and the market.
The Daily Page: How did you become a farmers' market vendor?
I like to talk, learn and share about food. The best place to do that is at the farmers markets, where customers can share their recipes and I can share mine.
What else do you offer through the summer season?
We have this line of Italian sweet peppers that are difficult to find and grow in our climate. These ripen in September and are huge and thick-walled and really sweet. We also attempt to have haricot vert beans each week, but they move really fast. Early and late in the season we have lettuces, Asian turnips, spinach and other cooler-season veggies.
What is your most popular product?
Without a doubt our raspberries. We pick them fresh for each market and offer six varieties in three colors: red, orange and yellow. We have them at our stand from late July through frost. And with our U-Picking, I think you can describe our farm as pretty much a garden or get-away spot that our customers just like to go to as a hide-away. We advertise that we do not offer the agri-entertainment that so many places have succumbed to thinking they need to offer. Our grounds are clean and fully grassed in the raspberry field. Families often picnic; some even hold birthday parties. Usually we have classical or folk music playing.
Okay, if someone were to say we have agri-entertainment, it has to be our cat, Scuffy, who demands attention, and our setter dogs who greet folks and kids. Or the entertainment could be the opportunity to stroll along a trail we call "Secret Trail," where moms or dads can time-out kids who are getting antsy about picking so long.
What's your most remarked upon offering?
We grow heirloom tomatoes -- about 25 varieties. They have so many flavors, and the colors are amazing. In the past, we were able to offer taste samples at the market, but the health department put a stop to that. Too bad, because there is nothing as good as a piece of freshly cut tomato that has not been chilled or iced.
What's your favorite product elsewhere at the market?
I'm a follower of Michael Pollan and a believer in what he talks and writes about. Grass-fed and wild meats and wild-caught fish that are not raised on a diet of corn are just better tasting and better for us.
What's your pre-packaged, supermarket-shelved guilty pleasure?
Without doubt it's dark chocolate. Eighty-five percent Lindt or Lindt's dark chocolate with mint.
If you were to make a meal incorporating your products, what would you make?
It has to be this simple one that I share with many people learning about cooking greens. This is a recipe that I picked up from a wonderful chef in Chicago -- Bruce Sherman at North Pond -- when he was doing food demos next to our stand. I don't even know the name of it, but I call it sautéed greens over pasta or rice. (I make this for just two people usually, so I use half the meat and greens.)
The recipe is: Bunch of Chard or Kale 8 oz of grass-fed meat, any kind, any cut, sliced into strips 1 fresh sweet onion, chopped 1 garlic clove, minced (optional) Olive oil Swanson's broth (vegetable, beef or chicken depending on the meat) Vinegar (wine or balsamic) Salt and pepper Rice or pasta.
You will need a heavy skillet with a lid.
Cook separately the amount of rice or pasta for the number at the table.
Cut the chard or kale stems off the leaves. Discard the stems if you use kale, but if you use chard, chop the stems into 3/8" pieces. Tear the leaves into about six large chunks and set aside. If you are making this for two people, use half the bunch of greens, and if you are making it for four, sauté the ingredients in two batches for a standard 11-inch skillet.
Add olive oil to your skillet and get it hot. Throw in the sliced meat, chopped onion and chard stems if using chard and brown them lightly. Add the garlic, about one-eighth cup of broth and the greens. Cover tightly and allow the greens to steam for about three minutes or until bright green. Toss in a little vinegar, mix all the ingredients and cook off the remaining broth. Salt and pepper lightly and serve over the pasta or rice.