Saturday was a beautiful day for a drive, so I decided to follow the St. Joseph River as it flows into Northwest Indiana and ended up at the South Bend Farmers Market. It's been a venerable business since 1911 when it was an outdoor place for vendors throughout the area to meet and sell their wares. It's now a rambling, added-on-to building centered around the Farmer’s Market Café, itself a rather old place, having opened 85 years ago.

For some reason I expected the market to be almost empty. After all, it is late in the season and though I know it’s open year round and most seasonal markets have closed, I thought that on a Saturday afternoon I wouldn’t face the crowds that I had last time I was there which was early summer.

Guess again.

The aisles were packed and there was a line at Sawyer's Meats, formerly Sawyer's Packing Company of Wakarusa, Indiana. Still family owned, it was one of the first vendors all the way back when the market opened in 1911. It seems time hasn’t impacted its popularity because by the time I got there a good portion of their meats, German foods and other items were seriously depleted. I was able to grab some of their deviled eggs along with the house made Hunter sticks (the man ahead of me said he came every Saturday to buy a bunch), a pint of their ham salad and a pickled egg — all for $6 and some change.

Not bad.

At the Bakers Dozen Bakeshop, run by a Polish family who also own a bakery in South Bend, I bought a few (yes, really just a few) paczki, kifli (a type of walnut filled cookie enclosed in a rich dough) and kolaczki. I also picked up some cheese pierogi to cook for my daughter, who loves them sautéed in butter and topped with a little sour cream.

There were still flower and plant vendors on site and I bought some basil to grow inside. Though I shouldn’t, I always stop at Sweet Street Caramel & Coffee Café where they make all sorts of things caramel and chocolate including their Tiger Paws (Rice Krispy treats dipped in caramel and drizzled with chocolate). A myriad of farmers, many from Southwest Michigan, were selling still fresh produce. I bought the biggest beet I’ve ever seen — all gnarly on the outside but with a sweet tasting pink striped interior once cooked.

Hovenkamp’s Produce of Decatur, Michigan, features the largest display of mushrooms I’ve ever seen even at big city markets like Pike Place in Seattle. They offer something like 16 varieties including western hedgehog mushrooms and western black trumpet as well as tiny tender western fiddlehead ferns and western sea beans.

Of course, with the season so close to late fall (though the market is, as I said before, year round), there were lots of root vegetables to be had as well as late fall veggies and fruits — cauliflower, berries, broccoli and potatoes — lots of different potatoes as well as Swiss chard in a variety of colors and, of course, the very healthy for us superfood, kale.

Because I love sweet potatoes but wanted to go beyond my fallback recipe of baking them with butter and real maple syrup from my friend Tim Burton who owns Burtonwood Maple Syrup Farms in Medora, Indiana (a real off the beaten path kind of place), I decided to look through my copy of My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients by Geoffrey Zakarian for a recipe that would be fun to try. Here it is—and though it’s a little work, it’s really worth it.

Geoffrey Zakarian's Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate and Meringue

6 sweet potatoes

One-half pound of butter

1tsp nutmeg

1stp ground cinnamon

1tsp Allspice

One-quarter cup maple syrup

1 cup sugar

One-half cup water

4 egg whites at room temperature

One-half tsp cream of tartar

For the Meringue:

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat over high heat, brushing down sides of pot as with a pastry brush dipped in water as to not burn or caramelize sugar. Cook until sugar syrup reaches a temperature of 240 degrees on candy thermometer.

While sugar is coming up to temperature, in a stand mixer, add the egg whites and cream of tartar, and whip with a whisk attachment on a medium speed until whites form a stiff peak.

When sugar is at proper temperature slowly pour sugar syrup in to mixture while mixing on a high speed.

With the mixer running, on a medium speed. Carefully and slowly drizzle in hot sugar syrup. Once all of the sugar is incorporated turn to high speed and mix until stiff.

For the Potatoes:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Poke holes in to sweet potatoes with a fork or a small pairing knife.

Place on a baking sheet tray, and bake until very tender when pierced with a knife. This should take about 1 hour.

When cool enough to handle, halve sweet potatoes and scoop out flesh with a spoon. Skins can be discarded.

Place flesh in to a mixer, and mix on low while slowly adding butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and syrup.

Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Fold in half of the pomegranate seeds and reserve half for garnishing.

Return to a baking dish, and pipe on Italian Meringue, scatter the pomegranate seeds and serve warm.

The South Bends Farmers Market is located at 1105 Northside Boulevard, just across the street from the St. Joseph River. It’s open year-round and current days and hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. 574- 282-1259;