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Chicago’s Green City Market and Roasted Chestnuts Recipe

Saturday was a crisp fall morning perfect for heading out to any farmers’ market, even if  just to take a look at all of the beautiful fall colors existing within the produce: bright red beets, crisp green lettuces, orange pumpkins, gourds from green to yellow to orange, and of course apples in every shade of red imagineable.

We needed to find locally made honey to help a colleague fight seasonal allergies and I thought the Green City Market near Lincoln Park in Chicago would be the best place to find it. The amount of vendors has swelled since the spring, the last time I was here (and met Alice Waters, where she signed a copy of her book, Edible Schoolyard). We ended up stopping at the Chicago Honey Co-op, a Sustainable Urban Agriculture Job Training and Chemical Free Beehive. They put people to work, as well as the bees, right here in the city of Chicago. Now that’s local honey.

Green City Market on the left; Lincoln Park Barn In the Zoo on the right

One of the first sights to come across were large boxes of squash and pumpkins, such as the one pictured below. What struck me about this one was how incredibly long this squash was. We put a Blackberry cell in the middle to be sure the size factor could be grasped in the photo. Amazing! Subhanallah. Must’ve been some incredibly rich black gold that squash was grown in…

I couldn’t help but be moved by the pumpkins and how many different foods I think of when I see these big, round hunks of delicious and delectable inspirations for soup, pasta, ravioli and pie. As a kid growing up, I always thought of pumpkins as something to carve, discarding the flesh and seeds as “garbage” and designing funny or scary faces on their skin with a permanent black marker, leaving them to decay after about a month of sitting outside to greet (or scare away) our house guests.

I was absolutely mesmerized at the market when I came across the Hillside Orchards stall to find what looked like sea urchins from far away. They were organic colossal chestnuts! These are so hard to find, especially those encased in what some people call Russian hats because of their furry looking shell, but beware–they are pointy and sharp and will do some damage if  they come into quick and hard contact with your skin.

At the end of this post I leave you with a recipe for perfectly roasted seasonal chestnuts, a combination of my Sicilian grandmother’s way of making them, along with the suggestion of the farmers at Hillside Orchards.

Some of the largest mushrooms I’ve ever seen were to be found at the Green City Market. So many people were at this stall speaking to the vendor that I didn’t get a chance to ask any questions. I was, anyway, dreaming up a good risotto recipe using these mushrooms in the meantime.

On our way out of the market I spotted these lovely, bright red cranberries, the last box at the Ellis Family Farms stall. How could anyone miss these beauties? I asked if they were organic and the young man working honestly informed me that no, they were not ‘certified’ organic, but they were not sprayed with any chemicals, either. I appreciated the honesty. I loved the way the cranberries looked and instantly began conjuring up recipes for a cranberry sauce with apples to accompany duck or turkey; perhaps a cranberry lemon bar? Or, should I make these cranberry mini muffins?

After a quick stroll through the market (though we arrived at 12:15, 1/2 hour of searching for parking doesn’t leave you with much time to see a market that closes at 1pm) we headed over to the Museum o f Science and Industry where I got to see their small, but relevant Real Food exhibit. Mainly geared towards children, it’s still quite education for everyone to learn in really simple terms why it’s so unhealthy to eat ”food” that has ingredients we can’t even pronounce.

Cappuccino Ice Cream at Piccolo Mondo

Though it may seem contradictory to be out in the cold and then crave ice cream, it is. I wasn’t craving something cold; I was craving dessert. We stopped at the corner restaurant, Piccolo Mondo, near the MSI and close to our parked car in Hyde Park (Obama’s stomping grounds).

Their desserts were mostly imported Italian ones: a chocolate cake, a dessert cake, profiteroles, etc. as well as a homemade tiramisu- made with alcohol. As for the imported desserts, since the waiters had no idea what was in them, I opted out, realizing so many Italian desserts are made with some form of alcohol. The ice cream, however, was not. Kudos to the waiter for his honesty.

Cappuccino ice cream made by a Chicago company called Al Gelato, was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever tasted. It also helps that they serve it to you in somewhat of a slab. I was nicely surprised, especially since it was a dessert for two. The cocoa powder that dressed the plate was not only pretty, but tasty when the ice cream was slided through it before entering my mouth…

 

Now for the Seasonal Roasted Chestnuts recipe

For any amount of chestnuts you have, you will need to soak them in water for 15 minutes.

Remove from water. Then, with a sharp paring knife, score them on the fat, protruding side, not the flat side. (to score just means to make an x type of incision).

Place scored chestnuts on a baking sheet, scored side upwards.

To an oven heated at 350º, bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tough outer shell and the thicker skin to reveal a yellowish, honey-colored chestnut underneath.

Enjoy as-is or add to soups and salads for extra crunch.

roasted chestnuts open up so beautifully

It was a wonderful day, filled with some of Chicago’s most local, seasonal and simple foods. I urge everyone living nearby to visit the outdoor market (last day is Oct. 30) and the indoor market beginning on Nov. 6.  if you don’t live nearby, check out LocalHarvest.org for a farmers’ market nearest you.

Here’s information on the vendors whose produce and goods I really enjoyed:

Heritage Prairie Market (lots of great raw, unpasteurized honey, seasonal produce)

2N308 Brundige Road

Elburn, IL 60119

630.443.8253

Ellis Family Farms (fresh seasonal cranberries, apple cider and more)

4233 E. Britain Avenue

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

269.313.1871

Hillside Orchards (organic chestnuts, chestnut flour, chestnut honey, seasonal produce)

8198 Fleisher Ln.

Berrien Springs, MI 49103

269.471.7558

Chicago Honey Co-op (Sustainable Urban Agriculture, Job Training and Chemical Free Beehives)

west side of Chicago in the North Lawndale neighborhood

They have classes on beekeeping and schedule tours for groups; their blog is informative for those interested in understanding bees and beekeeping.

honeycoop@gmail.com

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