And so my Montana expedition ends with the Missoula Farmers Markets. That’s right, Markets. Missoula boasts 3 Farmers Markets on Saturday mornings; all downtown, all within walking distance; each a little different.
The northern-most is a display of all produce vendors, with a few jams and jellies and a coffee kiosk thrown into the mix. Radishes, baby carrots, rhubarb, cucumbers, lettuce, bok choy, napa cabbage, flowers, morels, tomato starts and a new and fascinating lettuce cultivar (to me, that is) known as Chinese Long Sword. It is like a mix between celery and lettuce (alternatively known as “Celtuse“) and is traditionally eaten both raw and cooked. It’s long stem would appear to be a bolted surrender, but the plant is naturally allowed to shoot up, the slender leaves (which resemble sword leaves) are harvested and then the stem itself is cut off near the base (much like harvesting asparagus) and, while super bitter to the raw taste, was very satisfying when sauteed a bit in olive oil and salt last night with my supper; I might try it in a pilaf next time to get a water chestnut-type crunch.
If nothing else, it’s a great demonstration of utilizing the whole plant and stepping outside our comfort zone with a “new” food. Some other things I recommend trying are the small green tops of thinned beets as a salad, any member of the Brassica family’s flowering tops, or the side leaves on the stem of a flower of broccoli. And why not eat the side and top greens of the Brussel’s sprout plant? Though one should find out about any possible toxicity of certain plants’ parts; carrot tops can be toxic as are the leaves of rhubarb or the leaves and stems of tomato plants.
A stone’s throw from the produce market, is the hustling and bustling market of the crafts people. Handmade hats, baby booties, jewelry, wallets, recycled T-shirt skirts, wallets and fiber arts are all on display for 2 full city blocks and then some. Along with a coffee kiosk and breakfast burrito/lemonade stand customers can re-fuel and continue strolling through and perhaps decide to visit the river market.
It is here that the music is lively, the crowd is jubilant and the vendors are calling out to you with samples galore. Being more of a value-added market with things like curried-walnut-pesto, baked goods, flower pot arrangements, homemade sausages and mustard and organic soap and beauty products this is definitely the most busy crowd of the 3. Once a month the Missoula Public Library even rents a booth and brings down an assortment of garden, cooking, health, activist, food politics and children’s books along with their computer system on laptops so that people can check out books from the library at the market! I LOVE this idea! And their check-out timeline runs every 4 weeks, so that you can return your books either at the library or at the booth the next month when they’re back at the market.
In case it’s any question which market is my favorite, I also include a parting picture of the crowd of families, individuals, youngsters and oldie goldies eating together, hula-hooping, reading and relaxing in the green area between the market and the Clark Fork River. A great way to spend your Saturday mornings supporting small farmers and businesses, eating locally and socializing with your fellow Missoulians.