When I owned my bake shop, I used to sell sweets each Saturday at two local farmers’ markets. As exhausting as it was, I absolutely loved those Saturdays. My offerings were based heavily on what was in season at the time. Each Saturday I purchased my dairy, honey, maple syrup and produce to be used in baking for the following week. Rhubarb custards in May, fresh strawberry pies in June, berry scones in July, and apple crisps, moist zucchini loaves and pumpkin tarts at the end of summer were all part of our menu. While I don’t have the market stalls anymore, that weekly ritual is still very much a part of how I’ve continued to purchase food for my baking.
Shopping and eating locally produced foods is great for your budget, your community and for the environment. The market vibe is like no other and each stall is like a treat for your senses! There are so many vibrant colours and smells, tastes and textures to see. I encourage you to bring a list of necessities with you but to let the bounty of the season guide your food choices. Plan your baking menu around what the season has to offer and you’ll produce baked goods with better taste and nutrition, not to mention better cost savings for your family.
We’re just on the cusp of spring, which means soon the markets will be full of those first new fruits or vegetables of the year. It’s best to take a walk around the market a few times to see what’s available and what interests you. Be inspired as you browse and see what catches your eye. Think about what flavours you enjoy and how you can showcase the amazing foods that our local vendors make and grow.
Plan your baking menu around what the season has to offer and you’ll produce baked goods with better taste and nutrition, not to mention better cost savings for your family.
As winter winds down, our markets are still full of potatoes, apples, beets and carrots. Of particular interest to me on my last visit were the dark red sweet potatoes from a local vendor. I was completely smitten with their deep colour, and instantly thinking that sweet potatoes make an incredibly moist (and healthier!) chocolate brownie. That’s the discussion I was having with the farmer when he pulled a pamphlet out and showed me just how close his farm was to the market. Literally minutes! I was sold. He was so eager to talk about his farm and the care he puts into his product.
Each vendor has a story to tell. I’ve purchased the best baking apples from a third-generation orchard farmer. She’s proud of her family’s produce and is full of useful storage and preserving information. This week she told me that her favourite baking apples were the Mutsu and Ida Red. She picks the apples, packages them and hauls them to market each week. That’s insanely fresh and local. I was inspired to take some home for some apple cinnamon muffins for school lunches. Allow yourself to think outside the pie! I like to add fresh produce to scones and biscuits or nestle them on top of farm fresh cream or mascarpone cheese.
Don’t know what’s in season? By talking to the local vendors I’ve gained a good grasp of seasonal growing patterns, which has been so valuable in my baking. They let me know what to expect in the coming weeks and when items are beginning to fade out. I need lots of warning when strawberry season is coming to an end! This gives me time to bake as needed now and freeze extra items for later use. A customer told me one time that our icing tasted just like a freshly picked strawberry. That wasn’t too far from the truth -- we froze bags and bags of freshly picked berries to use in our icing. What a glorious tasting treat in the dead of winter!
Soon the markets will be hives of activity. There’s so much to look forward to with the promise of spring and what this growing season has to offer. Get up early this weekend, grab a coffee and head down to your local market for some inspiration. Get some local honey, farm-fresh cream and whatever produce inspires you to try something new.
I’ve included my healthier recipe for Deep Chocolate Brownies made with sweet potato. Happy Spring!
- ¾ cup coconut oil
- 6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 3 tbsp cocoa
- 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¾ cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
- Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Place the coconut oil and unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over a pot of simmering water until the chocolate and oil melt into a smooth liquid. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa.
- In a small bowl mix together the mashed sweet potato and brown sugar. Mix this into the chocolate mixture. Add eggs and vanilla. Using a spatula, stir in the flour mixture just until combined. Add in nuts and chocolate chips if desired.
- Bake for 25 - 27 minutes. A toothpick inserted a few inches from the side will come out with a few moist crumbs. Brownies will be slightly soft in the center but will firm up as they cool. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan.
- To make the meringue on the brownies as I have pictured, whip 5 egg whites until frothy. Add ½ cup of sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Top cooled brownies with the meringue and broil or use a kitchen torch to toast the meringue a nice light golden colour.
About Our Contributor
As the mother of three teenagers, Renee Mackey-Burson of Sweet Revelations, often feels the need to knead! Nothing clears the mind and calms the heart like icing a cake or rolling a big ball of dough into submission. Despite the full time job, the chauffeuring between schools and hockey arenas, this former bake shop owner still manages to scratch bake bread and other sweets for her family almost daily! Why she does it? Plain and simple: it’s cheaper than therapy.
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