One of the best things about farmers' markets everywhere – and Oak Park Farmers' Market specifically – is that small farmers who come to these markets understand that people are willing to spend a little extra to try something new.
We know we're supposed to eat our vegetables, and we're always looking for new ones to keep the plate interesting. The farmers who come to our farmers' market and many others in the area have seen the business opportunity. People want to try new types of produce, and smart farmers are willing to help make that happen.
Every year, vendors like Nichols and Genesis Growers trot out some unusually colored carrot, oddly shaped radish or leafy greens we've never seen before.
Last week at Tree of Life, I spotted some conical cabbage. Farmer Marc Millitzer told me that these oddly shaped vegetables were Early Jersey Wakefield cabbages, and that he got the seeds for them from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.
Seed Savers Exchange is a marvelous organization, dedicated to "saving and sharing heirloom seeds."
Blacktail mountain watermelon, plum purple radish and thousands of other varieties of edible and decorative plant life are preserved by this organization, which is one of the best hopes for the survival of species that, for one reason or another, were not deemed suitable for large corporate farms or their customers. When species disappear, there's really no way to get them back (aside from many millennia of evolution), so the importance of what the folks are doing at Seed Savers Exchange can hardly be overestimated.
The Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage was very tender. I simply fried it in some olive oil and ate it like a salad. The flavor was less intense than standard store-bought varieties of cabbage, and what was cool was that the cabbage could be cut into thin medallions and, if fried carefully, served in circles.
One cabbage was about two bucks, which is rather expensive for cabbage, Still, it's well worth it to try a new variety, and in some small way contribute to that variety's – and indirectly the planet's – survival.