To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig
The appeal is as basic as water and air. I love knowing that the person I just gave my money to, grew the food I just bought.
One of my favorite things about summer is fresh fruit and vegetables.
I love poking around farmer's markets and roadside stands and picking up and smelling the ripe tomatoes and cantaloupes and honeydews.
Theres something about being in open air markets that hearkens back to a simpler time when food was available right outside your kitchen door and all you needed to do was pluck it right from the earth.
Maybe its the pioneer spirit which I believe is buried deep in all of us that makes me feel this way. It just feels right to prepare a meal knowing that the ingredients werent processed to death and sprayed with pesticides or filled with preservatives.
Walking thru our community farmer's market today, I planned my dinner based on what was available. I like doing that rather than going to the grocery store and buying a week's worth of food and having it possibly go bad before I can even think about what Im cooking for dinner.
Today I found luscious peaches which were the basis for a mouthwatering peach crisp. Nothing beats homemade desserts and I dont care how much you pay for them in the stores, homemade is still best.
I bought crisp string beans and ripe, red tomatoes which had that unmistakable summer tomato smell that we long for in the dead of winter. A long, green cucumber found its way into my basket and on a whim, I bought a loaf of freshly baked bread from Big Sky Bakery.
I was remembering back to when I was a girl and my mother would bake bread every week. We never had store bought bread in our house because there were always loaves of “from scratch” bread in the freezer. I still remember opening the back door, coming in from school, and smelling the delicious aroma of bread baking in the oven. Today, buying that loaf of bread, was like paying homage to those days when bread baking in the oven seemed like the most normal and expected thing in the world.
Back when we were kids, and there was no air conditioning, summer meals were as simple as fresh tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, big ears of corn on the cob, dripping with butter and slices of fresh baked bread and all topped off with with a fruit pie or cobbler. A pitcher of iced tea, glistening with sliced lemons, was always sitting in the fridge waiting for my Dad to down a glass or two. Is it any wonder so many of us love summertime?
Tomorrow morning a slice or two of that wonderful bread that I bought today, will be toasted and then topped with apple butter and I'll have an easy, light breakfast of toast and juice.
I love the jars of homemade preserves and jams and jellies that you can find in farmers markets. They look like Christmas ornaments twinkling in the sun with all their different colors. If you arent a “canner”, which Im not, there are markets which sell Mason jars filled with the harvest of summer's best for you to take home and keep until those cold, dark days of winter.
End of summer always meant canning. Endless days standing in the kitchen in high humidity and warm temps washing Mason jars and sterilizing them for what seemed like forever and then stuffing them full of beans and tomatoes and corn and pickles and peaches. It wasnt my favorite thing to do, but I can remember being glad when the cold of January was upon us and Mom would open one of those jars and you could almost taste summer again.
There were buckets of sunflowers and gladiolas today. I cant think of two flowers that SCREAM summer more than sunflowers and glads. Another memory crowded my mind as I thought back to the gladiolas that my mother grew in our backyard and how she would fill vases with them and sit one on the kitchen table (we didnt have a dining room) and one on the living room coffee table. As a girl, I got used to fresh flowers in the house during the summertime and having them around the house nowadays just feels good.
People shopping in farmers markets all seem to be thinking the same thing. Its like a special club of same minded people connected by some mystical love for good food which links them to a past memory of home cooked food by someone they loved.
Two of my favorite markets are Findlay Market in Cincinnati Ohio and Second St. Market in Dayton Ohio There isnt much difference between the 2. They both carry local, homegrown produce and artisan breads and fresh flowers. The big difference for me, is that Findlay Market takes me back, yet again, to my childhood when my Grandfather would take me there almost every Saturday morning. He was from the old country and like so many of his generation, he believed that fresh has to always be better (you were so right, Grandpa!) and that mingling with people who were doing something they loved to do, was a form of entertainment and a way to meet people.
In his broken English, he would ask the girl for a “bound of bitches”. I, of course, knew exactly what he meant, and rather than be embarrassed, I would stand there, biting my tongue, while the produce girl tried to understand what grandpa wanted.
After a few times of repeating himself and getting frustrated, (after all, how hard is it to understand that all he wanted was a pound of peaches?) he would turn to me and ask me to tell her “in english” what he wanted. I still smile when I think of the look of relief on that poor girl's face once she recognized that he wasnt calling her a “bitch”.
He would drag me thru the entire market...stopping at this stand or that stand and always, ALWAYS, picking things up, sniffing them and sometimes even tasting them. He told me that they expected people to do that or how else could you know if it was good or not?
I wasnt quite sure that was accurate but I wasnt about to question my Grandfather since he seemed to be on a mission and knew exactly what he wanted. He would negotiate with the vendors and they would almost always come down in their price. That used to embarrass me and I would turn around or walk away when he began working on them. Over the years, they came to know him and when they saw him coming, they would start laughing. What a character he was!
Lolling around the market, on Saturday morning, getting a cup of hot coffee and a doughnut or Danish, was a simple pleasure and it satisfied my Grandpa's need to get out and see people and it provided me special time with my Grandpa.
I loved all of it. The people, the sights, the smells, the noise and the inner city feeling of that market especially impressed me. I think thats what I love most about open air markets (aside from the actual food). When I am in them, I feel I could be anywhere. I could be in Paris or London or Geneva or in any market in any city.
Going to the small farmer's markets and roadside stands isnt quite the same, but they'll do when I cant get to the big, open air markets. Nothing beats coming home with several bags stuffed with fresh produce, a few loaves of homemade bread and a bunch or two of fresh flowers.
I get a giddy excitement when I lay everything out on the counter. I look everything over and then wash all of it and then put it away until Im ready to prepare a meal.
I store lemons and limes, on my counter, in an old bowl I found in a thrift shop. Fresh tomatoes are always kept in a copper colander which Ive had for years, again on a counter top. Any cook worth her salt knows that “maters” are best when they arent refrigerated. I keep “taters” on a tray which sits on a shelf and the rest of my bounty is stored in the fridge. I get a kick out of having food on display. I use fresh veggies and fruit as decorations in my kitchen. It gives me pleasure to look at the shiny, red tomatoes or the bright, yellow lemons and I find that I use them more often because theyre out in the open and not hidden away in the refrigerator.
Food...the planning, buying and preparing of it, is a primal thing. It takes us back and reminds us of when life seemed simpler and easier. I dont know if it truly was easier because we have so many conveniences now that our parents and grandparents didnt have. But I do know this....my love for food and all that goes with it, is directly connected to my mother and grandmothers and a few of my aunts. They were all excellent cooks and they took the time to teach me and talk to me and answer my questions. I have memories of all of them doing what they did best...Mom making a big pot of green beans and ham in September..Aunt Ann and her famous dinner rolls at Thanksgiving...Aunt Sarah making Taboulleh, Grandma Russell and her vegetable soup and Grandma Raymond and her big loaves of pita bread. So in that respect, food, like so many other things, links us to our past and to those people who used food to show their love.
In my house, Sunday is the day I prepare a big meal for my children and grandchildren. We sit at the table and we eat and talk and spend time together. I hope we're creating memories.
I need to remember to buy a “bound of bitches” for Peach Cobbler this Sunday.