Summer in central Ohio brings a bounty of produce to local farmers’ markets. Alongside the traditional cornucopia of tomatoes, corn and zucchini, you may spot some baskets full of items you’ve never seen before.
Take advantage of the full array and spice up your plate with these unusual edibles.
Interesting and rare vegetables are something of a hobby for 2 Crows Farms, located in Upper Sandusky, says owner Darlene Crow.
“There are so many vegetables and so little time,” Crow says. “I’m a quasi-vegetarian. I eat mostly vegetables and I love them, and I love trying different things. Sometimes they’re wonderful and sometimes they’re not so good.”
Among her favorites from recent plantings is Chinese Okra, a type of gourd. When dried, it becomes a loofah sponge. But fresh off the vine?
“When it’s young, it’s delicious,” Crow says. “I’d say it has a lot more taste than zucchini. It’s sweeter (than zucchini). You can also eat the leaves of it for greens.”
The farm also produces a variety of interesting beans – gold beans, striped beans and curly beans – and an Italian cucumber called Carosello Barese.
“It’s actually a member of the melon family, but they eat them like cucumbers,” Crow says.
Crow is always planting new things, so not every experiment is a success. One year she planted African jelly melon – the name sounded appealing. She was wrong. They tasted awful and she ended up with about 40 bushels that she was unable to sell. Later, Crow learned the melons are used primarily for their hard outer shells, which make great bowls.
An untested plant she’s looking forward to trying this year is shimonita negi – a Japanese onion, long and green, that takes a full year to grow. If all goes well, they should be available at markets beginning in September. You can find 2 Crows produce at both the Worthington and Delaware farmers’ markets.
You’ve probably tasted – or at least heard of – chevre, a soft goat cheese, but have you ever given sheep cheese a try?
The folks at Kokoborrego Cheese from Sippel Family Farm in Mt. Gilead want to change that. One of the only sheep’s milk cheese sources in the state, Kokoborrego began a few years ago when Lisa and Ben Sippel noticed a hole in the market and thought they’d be the ideal candidates to fill it.
“We decided that sheep were the appropriate-sized animal for the farm, and nobody else was doing sheep’s milk cheese in Ohio,” Kokoborrego cheesemaker Ben Baldwin says.
Sheep’s milk cheeses are high in Vitamins A, B and E, as well as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, when compared to cows’ milk.
And don’t write off sheep’s milk cheese just because you aren’t a fan of goat cheese. The two have very different flavor profiles and textures, Baldwin says.
“Sheep’s milk cheeses right out of the gate tend to have kind of sweetness to them and a definite nuttiness to them when they age,” he says. “The texture, on average, tends to be a little more firm than cows’ milk cheese.”
Kokoborrego cheese is made by hand in small batches. It’s made with raw milk – not pasteurized milk – so under Ohio law, it must be aged for a minimum of 60 days. Their best seller is Tomme-style wheels aged three to four months.
“It’s very easy to grate on pasta and salads. It’s not the kind of melting cheese that a lot of people use,” Baldwin says. “I think it’s best on its own in thin slices with a glass of wine.”
Kokoborrego cheese is sold at the Clintonville and Olde Worthington farmers’ markets.
Rock Dove Farm out of West Jefferson sells some unusual veggies. In August, you can find salsify at the farm’s stands at the Clintonville, Olde Worthington, Easton and New Albany farmers’ markets.
“It’s a root vegetable that was really common in home gardens prior to World War II, but now, pretty much just the Amish grow it,” says Rock Dove farmer Todd Schriver. “It’s related to parsnips. … It’s good raw in salads or mashed, sautéed or in stews.”
Look for sunchokes, an edible root of the sunflower species, in October.
“They’re pretty comparable to water chestnuts or jicama. They’re mild and starchy. Diabetics use them as a substitute for potatoes,” Schriver says.
Cardoons are like “the celery of artichokes,” Schriver says. They’re bred for stem production and have a flavor similar to rosemary. The spikes on the stems mean they must be peeled before they’re cooked and served; the vegetable goes well with strong alcohols and salty preserved fish such as anchovies.
At first glance, the produce from Swainway Urban Farm might look like sprouts you could find in any grocery store. But technically, the tiny plants are microgreens; unlike sprouts, they are exposed to light to allow them to photosynthesize, drawing nutrients from the soil in which they’re grown.
Almost anything can be grown as a microgreen, farmer Joseph Swain says. Among his offerings are kale, pea and sunflower shoots.
“They’re three times as nutrient-dense as their full-grown counterparts,” Swain says.
Each type of shoot has its own flavor profile. Sunflower shoots are delicate and mild. Kale is fresh and vibrant.
The farm is located in Swain’s Clintonville yard and his microgreens are available at the Clintonville and New Albany farmers’ markets.
Lisa Aurand is a contributing editor. Feedback welcom at email@example.com.