Monday, August 27, 2007

What's Local at the New Maxwell Street Market

Michigan Fruits and Vegetables

If you have even a passing interest in the Chicago food media buffet over the last five years, you know that the weekly (Sunday) street market up and down Canal Street called the New Maxwell Street Market (in deference to the original Chicago street scene) is one of the best places to eat in Chicago. If you have been snoozing all this time, start here and then get this documentary, a good peak of the video can be found at this link. Maxwell Street is a top foodie destination. At the bottom of this post, I'll tally of eating over the last two Sundays.

To eat. To shop, I'm less enamored. Granted, there is some shopping I like. My family can hardly ever resist a pound or so of candied Mexican plums (cirules) when they are available. I marvel at the secret herbs. The dried pepper stands impress me. On the other hand, I've never been much for the vegetables and I certainly bypass the big crates of ultra-ripe fruit for sale. After all, I am a localvore. I have better places to get this stuff.

Except maybe now. The market yesterday was awash in the kinda ugly ripe tomatoes that signify taste. There were imperfect zucchini and their accompanying imperfect blossoms. All around me there was horrible looking fruits and vegetables, and I was happy. Granted, I did not buy any, having a pretty full larder at home, but I would if I wanted.

Still, the ample showing of local food at the Maxwell Street Market underlies a key issue with eating local around here. For a few months, it is not hard to get good tomatoes, better peaches, musky muskmelons. Then it all disappears. These vendors return to selling their crappy Cal stuff. Yes, summer tomatoes sell. Why cannot we also see fall root crops and winter potatoes and greens grown in hoop houses. I wish the small part of the food industry that still exists around here could expand beyond August.

And not just beyond August, another problem, not just with Maxwell Street, but with the local food economy in the Chicago area, it consists of about five crops. Apples, eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, corn and cucumbers. These things, plus maybe onions and peaches, and potatoes can be obtained locally in their season. Rich and varied diet? It is not that our soil does not support other crops. Visit a farmer's market. Even Whole Foods has gone beyond in their supply of local--although the demand for its local burdock root, I gotta imagine stays low. Maxwell Street should be awash in tiny shiny plums, purple cauliflower, fresh shelling beans, fragrant (if seeded) grapes, big beets, bigger hard squashes. While I can dream and pine for what's not there, I am still happy that Maxwell, about now, is a source for local food.

If you like eating, you should really get there. Here's what I ate over the last two weeks (last Sunday was rain delayed): four tacos de birria, two cups of consome, three grilled steak tacos, one fresh made churro, one empanda de rice pudding, one bean pupusa.

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