Food that is grown here. Food that just grows here. Either way, great!
In 1886, John Burroughs described the sap run as “the sweet good-bye to winter...an equal marriage of sun and the frosts.” The warm days and cold nights of early spring mean tapping the maple trees, boiling sap in sugar shacks, and experiencing the pure sweet taste of fresh maple syrup.
In May, one of the most coveted items in gourmet restaurants pops magically from beneath half-dead oaks or apple trees. The morel mushroom shakes people from their winter doldrums and draws them into the woods for the year’s best treasure hunt. At the same time, other local delicacies are there for the taking. Ramps, or wild leeks, are wild onions native to North America. Raw or cooked, their pungent woodsy taste add flavor to salads, risottos, potato dishes, and eggs. And don’t forget to sauté a few fiddleheads, the unfurled tops of the young ostrich or royal ferns springing up in the woods.
Spring brings the blossoms that promise fall apples and the first delicious vegetables and fruits, such as asparagus and strawberries. You may buy them at local farms or orchards, roadside stands, or pick them yourself. As summer rolls along, the roadside stands and farmers markets offer every kind of local bounty, from homegrown sweet corn and melons to heirloom beans and heavy ripe tomatoes to more exotic new vegetables like purple carrots and blue potatoes. With the many certified farmers in the area, there is plenty of organic produce available.
Summer means bees and bees mean honey. There is an active group of beekeepers in the area and every type of honey is available locally, direct from the hive.
Summer is a great time to visit the local vineyards and try some wines from cold-climate grapes. Sit outside and sip a sweet fruity white or a full-bodied red while enjoying views of grapevines on valley slopes. The fall harvest is especially fun to observe.
In fall, along a scenic ridge near Gays Mills, traffic is brisk as visitors from many states come for the many varieties of apples grown by the seven local orchards. Paula Reds and Ginger Golds, Greenings and Galas, Cortlands and Granny Smiths, and of course, the sought-after Honeycrisp. Ciders and cider donuts. Jellies and jams. Applesauce and pies.
Viroqua has a great farmers market on Saturday mornings from May through October, as does Prairie du Chien. Gays Mills has a new market on Thursdays from 4:30 to 7:00. Watch for roadside vegetable stands and trucks piled high with sweet corn.