It’s Farmers’ Market season! Everyone rejoice, for our Midwest soil brings forth veggies and herbs and fruits. The Land Connection's Downtown Champaign Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays is one of my favorite date night ideas. There are food trucks, tastings, and lots of goodies for you to bring home for the week (that is, until Urbana’s on Saturday). It’s a good time, on the cheap, and you’re helping support local farmers and businesses. 

The Champaign farmers’ market is located downtown in the parking lot by Neil and Main, and occurs every Tuesday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. As the weeks pass by you can expect to see different types of produce pop up at the vendor tables, depending upon what’s in season. If you follow Land Connection’s Facebook page you can count on announcements about what you can expect to see each week. You can also check their website for updates too. My husband works downtown so I love being able to meet up with him at the market after work to peruse the goods and grab a bite to eat.

My first stop is always the cooking demonstration tent. I love that this is a regular thing now. It’s a different recipe and chef/demonstrator each week and they use fresh ingredients from the farmers’ tables around the market. Who doesn’t love free samples? The afternoon we went, Breakfast, Life, and Dinner was providing cooking demonstrations and samples of roasted tomatoes with greens and quick-pickled beets and turnips.

We considered this part of our appetizer. When we arrived there were already samples ready and Chef Adam had halved tomatoes roasted on the grill for more. The sample I tried used mustard greens, and he also had a batch of beet tops ready to grill as well. It was so tasty and I love the bit of char you get on the greens from grilling them. He made a point to say that this roasted salad could go well with a variety of things like quinoa and tuna, maybe some garbanzo beans, and I whole heartedly agree. I will certainly try it this summer on my own.

I’ve only recently become a fan of beets so I love trying them whenever I can. I love the earthy flavor and the quick pickle method still allows that to shine through without being too overpowering with the vinegar. The turnip pickle was delicious too. I believe they used hakurei turnips for the recipe, and now I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for that type as well. He used coriander, dill, and garlic cloves as part of the quick pickle on the turnip, carrot, and radish concoction.

As a continuation of our appetizer, we stopped at the Pekara Bakehouse table for some savory pastries. We chose one that was filled with roasted red pepper and feta while the other was filled with spinach and feta ($3 each). My favorite was the red pepper feta but both were delicious. In addition to their loaves of bread and baguettes they always have a table full of singular items like these: pretzels, sweet and savory pastries, mini pizza breads, slices of cake, etc. I can never get there early enough to nab some of the most popular treats, but luckily the bakery and bistro is right down the street.

We then got a pizza to split from the Dragon Fire Pizza truck. Dragon Fire is officially part of the market, so you can plan to see the truck every Tuesday. We had tried a few of the others last time we were there but had yet to try the classic Margherita ($9). They use a wood fired, brick oven (handcrafted in Italy) that’s attached to the truck to cook their pizzas. It looks pretty darn cool and the best part is they use fresh, local ingredients from places like Ludwig Farmstead Creamery and Old Time Meat and Deli. The pizza is ready fast, depending on the line of patrons, and is usually done in around 5 to 7 minutes. The market has tables and chairs set up now so there’s a nice place to sit and enjoy. If this was all you were getting I’d order one pizza per person as they’re about 12” across. Since we were choosing to graze at the market, splitting one was just fine with us. Their pizzas are beautiful. As simple as it is I still thought the margherita was a tad bland for my tastes. Perhaps the sauce needs more punch? The strong flavor of the fresh basil helps. Be sure to grab some parmesan and red pepper flakes. The crust is cooked perfectly: thin, light, and fluffy around the edges with just a little bit of char from the wood fire. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and there will be some other food trucks, like Hendrick House or Fernando’s, set up just outside the market, but they do this independently of the market so it’s not always a guarantee.

Strawberries are in season right now and they tend to go fast at the markets. We quickly snatched up a container of bright red, perfectly ripe strawberries from Meyer Produce for our dessert ($5). Of course there’s also The Pop Stop, perfect for a hot summer afternoon, and lots of other tents that offer cookies, and pastries. Grovestone is now at both markets and offers tastings of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. I’ve tried their strawberry white balsamic and the raspberry balsamic and they were such a treat for the taste buds. Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery has tastings of their goat milk gelato too.** And of course we couldn’t leave without loading up on treats for our furry family — our pups love the Billy Goat Ruff treats from Lucky Pierre Bakers ($6.50, two paws up!). The evening’s total, including dog treats, was only $26.50. And don’t forget to stop by the Land Connection tent to pick up some sweet swag, get matching (temporary) eggplant tattoos, and score some new recipe cards!

More information about The Land Connection's Tuesday Farmers' Market is available on Facebook

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake. 

** Editor's Note: We have learned that Prairie Fruits is not actually selling at the Land Connection market this season due to other Tuesday obligations.