We learned an important lesson on a recent trip to the Mill City Farmers' Market. The early bird gets the chocolate croissant.
We also learned that summer may be over, but the harvest still is going strong. Even sweet corn, a crop I associate with the hot days of August, will be on sale well into October, barring a hard frost.
I recently biked to the Mill City Farmers' Market from St. Paul with my two elementary- school age boys. I would have had a hard time convincing them that shopping for groceries at Cub Foods was fun, but they were excited about a ride to the farmers' market, especially after I promised them a treat.
Mill City Farmers' Market is one of the newer metro markets, started in 2006 by Brenda Langton, owner of Spoonriver restaurant next door. Every Saturday morning from May through October, about 60 vendors fill the pedestrian plaza between the Guthrie Theater and Mill City Museum.
You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more picturesque setting for shopping. You can watch the Mississippi River roll under the Stone Arch Bridge while you buy your broccoli.
We locked our bicycles to the crowded racks below the Guthrie Theater, then passed up organic mini doughnuts from the Chef Shack to search for chocolate croissants.
It was impossible to move quickly through the market because my attention was caught by piles of vivid orange carrots, purple beets and green paper pulp trays overflowing with yellow
We walked past artisan cheeses, bags of heritage wheat flours, wild salmon, woven baskets from Mexico and bottles of olive oil.
Finally, we stumbled upon Solomon's Bakery, deep inside a metal-roofed, open-sided train shed that shelters half the vendors.
"Do you have any chocolate croissants?" my son asked, eyeing the displays of sugar-dusted beignets.
The server said she had just sold the last one and pointed over our shoulder. We turned around to see who had been lucky enough to nab it. The girl looked so blissfully happy that my irritation at our bad timing immediately vanished.
"Is it good?" I asked her. "Mmmm. Hmmm," said 8-year-old Helen Krider, licking chocolate smears from the corners of her mouth.
"We come a few time a year, probably four or five," said her mom, Ruth Krider, who lives in Shoreview. "We love the fresh veggies, and the food."
She had just eaten one of Spoonriver's signature goat cheese crepes. They planned to finish the morning at the Mill City Museum.
Instead of croissants, my sons got chocolate chip cookies as big as salad plates, which they washed down with lemonade.
I bought a peach galette at the Salty Tart stand, which also has a permanent bakery in Midtown Global
TASTE OF SUMMER
It's a good thing I was limited to what I could fit in my two bicycle panniers. As it was, I bought green beans and radishes and a basket of small, firm cucumbers for $8.
I also picked up a dozen ears of sweet corn grown at Nistler Farms in Maple Plain. The booth boasted a clever sign, "The average produce eaten in Minnesota travels 1,553 miles. How far is Nistler farms from your house?"
When we got home -- we did the math and found out our house is about 30 miles from Nistler Farm -- my 6-year-old daughter helped me slice the cucumbers and we made a crock of refrigerator pickles, using my colleague's easy recipe. We ate the corn -- steamed and slathered with butter -- at dinner.
"I think the fall corn is some of the best eating of the season," farmer Jeffrey Nistler wrote on his blog last September. "Maybe it's because November is looming and every last taste of summer is that much sweeter."
I agree wholeheartedly.
Maja Beckstrom can be reached at 651-228-5295.
What: Mill City Farmers' Market
Where: Chicago Mall near the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis
Hours: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, May
Cost: Free to browse; vendor prices vary
Target audience: Anyone who wants to buy fresh food in a fun atmosphere
Crowd pleaser: Chocolate croissants at Solomon's Bakery or Salty Tart and crepes at Spoonriver restaurant
Tip: Parking is available at meters and ramps on Chicago Avenue and South Second Street. But biking is more fun.