The 61st Street Farmers Market: Where Hyde Park comes to feast.
Summertime in Hyde Park lacks the frenzied pace and accompanying stresses and excitements of the academic year. It’s more of a slow burn, so to speak, but that’s what makes it so wonderful: you can take as many pauses as you would like down a winding neighborhood street, or watch the sun set—deliciously slowly—behind the distant Chicago skyline. Hyde Park becomes a feast for the senses, open to be savored rather than merely grasped.
The feast becomes literal on Saturday mornings, when Hyde Parkers congregate at the 61st Street Farmers Market to buy and taste the diverse offerings of farmers and chefs. Hyde Park, as it turns out, is a favorite locale of many of the vendors, a fact that took me by surprise. I reasoned that Hyde Park would surely rank behind bigger venues downtown; after all, more customers means more business. But according to Stuart Beaman, an employee at Tomato Mountain Farm, it’s the Hyde Park residents who really make this neighborhood experience stand out. There are two types of customers here, Beaman explains: “People who really know what they’re talking about and people who don’t know anything—but are totally modest about it.”
While inspecting a stack of fat zucchinis at the Mick Klug Farms stand, I heard one customer remark, “I thought it was a bad year for stone fruit,” while another inquired, “What’s the year been like for raspberries?” Beaman’s words rang in my mind: Two types of customers.
Stamper Cheese’s volunteer Sarge Junior, a young Hyde Park resident, shares Beaman’s sentiments. He likes working at the market because of the customers. “I get to make them giggle, laugh, and I have friends that come over.” He also made sure to note, “And I get to try all the cheeses.” I nodded in agreement as I happily paid for a bag of Stamper’s squeaky garlic and dill cheese curds.
Chef Justin Hall of Fig Catering, one of the many chefs who have given cooking demonstrations at the market, acknowledges that there is not the biggest variety at 61st, but adds, “This food and this environment, ... it’s only one day a week, but I think it’s a service to the neighborhood.” Hall proceeded to cook up meatballs made from neighboring stand Mint Creek Farm’s lamb, served with a salad of greens and strawberries from Tomato Mountain. The audience, including this lucky customer, emitted groans of gustatory satisfaction upon taking their first bites.