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Wednesday, May 2, 2007 01:40 am

Fake farmers

Some roadside stands are reselling grocery produce

art4066
Untitled Document He’s back! Since mid-April the guy who’s been selling fruits and vegetables at our corner for several years has been at his post. I almost never buy there, because most of it’s not homegrown, let alone locally grown, though in late summer I might get a melon from him if I’m desperate. (He does sell seasonal Beardstown melons.) Unfortunately, most of the people who pull over and buy his stuff don’t realize that they’re essentially getting the same produce they’d get at the grocery a mile away. I don’t really mind that he’s selling it, but I do mind that he’s leading people on. It’s sad that many people are so out of touch with seasonal availability that they think those pallid rock-hard tomatoes and big waxed cucumbers (local cucumbers and tomatoes won’t be available until July) were really grown around here. I can’t be too critical, however. I succumbed myself last week. It was because I was longing for seasonal asparagus.
Local asparagus should have been available since the beginning of April. In fact, I’d already had some. A few days before Easter, my mom had called to tell me that Jefferies Orchard had the very first asparagus that day: “But there’s not much, so if you want some, you’d better get out there in a hurry,” Mom said. We’d been waiting for it: Freshly picked asparagus is vastly more flavorful and almost sweet. I left as quickly as I could, watching the increasingly darkening sky to the west. As I pulled into Jefferies, it began raining. It was a deluge, and within seconds hail was everywhere. I dashed into the open-sided tin shed where owner Ruth Jefferies Anderson stood. The noise was overwhelming. We tried shouting but could hear nothing but the roar of hail on tin. When the maelstrom subsided, she was glum: “This’ll have leveled the asparagus in the field — and with the freeze coming there won’t be any more for weeks.” I was lucky to have gotten enough for Easter dinner plus several more meals. Three weeks later, however, I was ready for more. When I called Anderson, she said that the asparagus was just starting to come back but wouldn’t be ready until the weekend. It was disappointing, because I was hungry for pasta with asparagus and lemon, an utterly simple yet delicious dish I always make when asparagus is in season. A bit later I was driving past the corner stand when I saw a plastic bucket filled with . . . Was it? Could it be? Yes! Asparagus! “It may well be fresh,” I told myself. “Maybe it’s been warmer in Beardstown.” “Yup,” the guy said in answer to my question.” “Picked fresh just this morning.” He handed me the asparagus, bundled in plastic. “Sucker!” I thought disgustedly to myself when I got home and opened the bag. Several stalks were withered, and a couple of tips were even slimy. We had something else for dinner. The corner guy always makes me think of the people who had the stand beside ours at the Springfield farmers’ market on the square in the ’70s. They drove us crazy, swilling beer and smoking as they pulled in at 7 a.m. We were bleary-eyed and nursing cups of coffee, having picked produce until dark the night before, worked until after midnight cleaning it, and then risen well before dawn to load up and get to town. Our neighbors cheerfully admitted to us that they drove to St. Louis to purchase their produce at wholesale warehouses. They had a different story for customers, however. “Yeah, we grow everything ourselves,” they’d say, sometimes glancing our way and giving us a wink. It was so frustrating. We couldn’t very well pluck at their customers’ sleeves and tell them they were being lied to. Fortunately, vendors at the farmers’ market these days can only sell produce and goods that they have raised or made themselves, and there are others, such as Jefferies and Suttill’s, that have stands at their farms.
The Springfield Farmers’ Market will begin with a pre-market on the square on May 5, 9, and 12. The regular market, on Adams between Fourth and Fifth streets, will open May 16. Call 217-544-1723 for more information.
Jefferies Orchard is located at 1010 Jefferies Rd. (located off Route 29, north of Springfield) 217-487-7582, www.geocities.com/jefferiesorchard/; Suttill’s Gardens is at 2201 Groth, 866-439-8097, www.suttillsgardens.com.
Send questions and comments to Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
Asparagus-and-Lemon Pasta Sauce
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or more to taste) 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus    additional for serving at the table. Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground (preferably    white) pepper to taste
Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the asparagus into approximately 2-inch pieces, reserving the tips separately from the stems. In a large skillet or wok, sauté the asparagus stems in 4 tablespoons of the butter until the asparagus is just tender. A knife should be able to pierce the stems easily, but be careful not to overcook. Cool to room temperature, then put the asparagus in an electric blender or food processor. Sauté the asparagus tips in the same skillet in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter until just crisp-tender. They should be more al dente than the stem pieces. Set the asparagus tips aside. Add the lemon zest and juice to the asparagus stems. Cook 1 pound of dried pasta in boiling salted water until just a couple of minutes shy of al dente. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the blender or food processor and pureé the mixture. You may have to add a little more of the pasta water. Add 1 cup of the pasta water to the skillet and bring it to a simmer to deglaze the pan. Drain the pasta and add it and the pureé to the skillet. Cook for a couple of minutes to incorporate the flavor of the sauce into the pasta. Stir in the cheese and half of the asparagus tips, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining tips over the top and serve immediately with additional cheese on the side. Good pasta choices for this sauce include        fettuccini, bow ties, orchiette, and other small shapes.
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