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Appetites: Winter markets offer farms' bounty beyond the growing season

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Winter market
Dillon Noble, center, and his mother Linda Noble, right, sell their grass-fed and organic meat Saturday, March 1, 2014 at the winter farmers market in downtown St. Paul. They farm in southern Minnesota and sell beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb and eggs at their Farm on Wheels stand each weekend at the market. The winter farmers market is open Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., with vendors selling outside and inside at Golden's Deli.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

You might think that, with snow on the ground, farmers markets would be scarce this time of year. But local food, and markets that sell it, are not limited to the growing season.

  Beth Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers' Market Cookbook," says farmers markets are feeding her hunger for good food and camaraderie after months of cold and bleak weather.

Here's Dooley's guide to winter farmers markets:

Winter market
Dale Wolf, of Wolf Honey Farm in Baldwin, Wis., talks to a customer Saturday, March 1, 2014 at the winter farmers market in downtown St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Is fresh produce available at the markets?

Several weeks ago, at the Kingfield Winter Market, I found beautiful pea shoots from the Wise Acre restaurant, which has has a farm in Plato, Minn. 

Along with the glorious pea shoots, they were selling many of the farm's storage crops — carrots, radishes, parsnips, beets — all harvested in late October, before the frost, and kept in root cellars (as our grandparents once did). They were delicious! Almost as good as if they were freshly harvested.

Other vendors were selling storage apples and winter spinach (harvested even after the snow).

Winter market
Ground beef for sale at Linda Noble's Farm on Wheels table Saturday, March 1, 2014 at the winter farmers market in downtown St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

What's new these days at the winter markets are the smart technology and methods farmers are using to extend the season. Hoop houses, solar green houses, and gray water systems allow farmers to to grow micro greens and tomatoes — and to start plants earlier in the year so they'll be ready to put in the ground once things thaw.

What else is available at these markets?

Artisan jams, jellies, apple butter, meat (pork, chicken, beef, lamb), eggs, cheeses (sheep, cow, goat), stone ground cornmeal, freshly milled heritage wheat, honey and maple syrup. 

The winter markets are smaller and lower key, so it's also a good time for farmers to try out new products they are considering selling for the coming year,including new breads, pancake and cookie mixes — which makes them even more interesting to curious cooks like me.

Where are the markets?

• Kingfield Farmers Market at Bachman's in south Minneapolis. Last winter market is March 22.

• Mill City Farmers Market in downtown Minneapolis has an indoor market every month.

• St. Paul Farmers' Market has a winter market every week in Lowertown St. Paul.

• You can find more winter markets across the state at the Minnesota Farmers' Market Association website.

CURRIED CARROT SOUP
from Beth Dooley's "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook"
Serves 4 to 6

Use any root vegetable in this recipe — carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips — or a mix. It's perfect for the storage vegetables you'll find at the winter markets. This recipe is vegan, but feel free to use chicken stock and cream instead of the vegetable stock and coconut milk. 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-1/2 pounds carrots, cut into chunks
4 to 6 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon curry paste, or to taste
1 cup coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup shredded coconut for garnish, optional

Heat the oil in a medium pot set over high heat and saute the onions and carrots until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and curry and cook the carrots until very soft, about 15 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, add the coconut milk and, if it seems too thick, more stock. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve garnished with the shredded coconut.