Recently, a few friends have asked, “Is there even much produce available at the market right now?”
At this point in the fall, a scene at the Durham Farmers’ Market might look a little something like this: piles of orange, white, and blue pumpkins of all shapes and sizes on one side of the aisle and mountains of assorted greens varieties stacked on farmers tables on the other side of the aisle.
While the leaves on the trees are turning and falling, leaves of another sort are flooding the South Durham Farmers’ Market.
Ginger. Turmeric. Galangal. These are names that you expect to find in the spice aisle, not at a farmers market.
But over the past couple of years, local farmers have been experimenting with growing these exotic spices. Now, in the fall, alongside the pumpkins, sweet potatoes and greens, you’ll find these three spices in their fresh form at the Durham Farmers’ Market.
Ginger, turmeric and galangal are all closely related and most commonly grown in tropical locations. So, it is natural that these three plants like the moist, humid weather of the southern summer. Because of their tropical origins, they need about 7 months of warm, 80-degree-plus weather to mature enough to harvest and enjoy.
Here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, we almost have that length of warm weather, but not quite. So, local farmers start their plants in the greenhouse in late winter and then move the plants outside when the weather has warmed up. By late September, fresh baby ginger, turmeric and galangal roots are ready to be harvested. Farmers will continue harvesting until we reach the first frost.
Since these are all relatively new items to start showing up at local farmers’ market, you may wonder how to use them. Let’s start with ginger. The locally grown, fresh ginger isn’t the brown colored ginger you see in the grocery store. It has a lovely ivory and pink color and it doesn’t need to be peeled -- you can use the whole thing. Because it is freshly dug and hasn’t been cured for storage, it has a higher moisture content and bright gingery flavor. You can use it wherever you enjoy ginger, in soups, stir-frys, juices and sweets. Market customers also have told me that fresh ginger is perfect for making candied ginger.
Turmeric is most often used in Indian and Thai cuisines and is known for its bright orange color. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, which has made it a staple in Ayurvedic medicines. To use fresh turmeric, you can slice it up or grate it and add it to curries, stir-frys or soups. Also available at the market are turmeric leaves, which can be used to steam things like fresh fish or vegetables.
Galangal is a little bit less well known than turmeric or ginger. Like the others, it is often found in Thai, Vietnamese or Indonesian cuisines. I’m most familiar with its use in soups such as Tom Kai Gai and Tom Yum, which are often on menus at Vietnamese restaurants. Fresh galangal is also often used in south Indian curries.
Have fun experimenting with these new spices that local farmers are growing. I’m sure before too long, they will be incorporated into southern cuisine in delicious and innovative ways.
Erin Kauffman is market manager of the Durham Farmers’ Market, which is open 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at 501 Foster Street in downtown Durham.
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