We shop at farmer’s markets so regularly, they are such an unquestioned part of both Lisa’s and my weekly routines, that we don’t actually write much, specifically, about them here.
We have written posts about various fruits or vegetables we’ve introduced to our kids, new recipes found at the market, the farmers or fish mongers we visit, but, as it turns out, not much about the market scene: the day of the week, whether we walk or drive, what the kids like to buy, and how we haul our pounds of produce home.
So I’m looking forward to all of you discovering the three, very different, market essays in our book (available for pre-order now!) and for now, am continuing to punt writing about my local market. Instead, to supplement what I’ve written already about the fabulous street food we found in Turkey, I thought I’d offer a peek at the amazing variety of goods you can find in the local markets:
And what, after all this, did we actually buy? Eli bought a laser pointer. Ben bought three different bags of this kind of weird, granulated fruit tea:
And the adults bought the fixings to make a few meals like this:
Even though the temperatures here are still summerlike, and our markets are still full of piles of plums, rainbow swaths of tomatoes, giant bouquets of cilantro and basil, I am facing the end of summer and all that comes with it. This weekend, I will slow roast dozens of pounds of early girls, zip their jammy goodness into bags, and freeze them for the winter rains. I’ll continue to make double batches of pesto as long as I can, freezing half and hoping the stash will last until March. Other than that, our summer food will be gone.
Cling peaches; waiting to be drenched in cream and brown sugar for the kids; in Prosecco for the adults
This is the way it should be.
Eating seasonally has become the paramount virtue at our table. It’s more important than organic. It’s more important than family dinner. It’s more important than getting my kids in the kitchen or dragging them to the farmers’ market. We’ve done all that, and we still do all that. Sometimes. Now that Ella and Finn are older, they have their own ideas about things, and they just don’t always want to be in the kitchen. Most of the time, they’d rather climb the orange tree than juice its fruit. They’d rather kick the soccer ball into the fence than harvest the tomatoes growing along it. And they’re a lot more interested in the chocolate croissants than another peach sample on Saturday mornings. Can you blame them? Ella has been to over 400 farmers markets in her life. She’s 9. She gets it.
summer corn with butter and basil
Most weekend mornings, she’d rather stay home and finish building that new metropolis she and Finn started. They have an open invitation to the kitchen. They can mix up smoothies or kidtinis when the (nonalcoholic) spirit moves them. But bedtime is more important than eating with dad. So we will have family dinner on the weekends. They won’t leave the house without knowing how to chop an onion or read a recipe or buy their own food.
Still, there is one, unwavering constant: here, in this very lucky climate, we eat what grows in season. If it’s not in the farmers market, we don’t buy it. What we eat is tied to the cycle of the year, and reminds us of a specific time and place. It’s the one, true constant of our food life.
the end of the heirlooms
The kids mourn the loss of stone fruit, but they can’t wait for apples. They gobble up the blueberries, but are enchanted by the first knobby, ruby red, pomegranates. Sharing these things, like the fleeting perfume of pineapple guavas or winters’ crunchy Hachiya persimmons, brings us together. We have shared desires. We know it’s the dead of winter when our oranges are ready to eat. We know spring has come when I bring home the first favas. In fall, shelling a new crop of walnuts is like digging for gold. These things are our common memory. These things bring us to the table. We don’t have a large family. We don’t have an elaborate kitchen. We don’t cook together all the time. We don’t have a whole lot of traditions or generations-old family recipes, or a rich cultural legacy. What we do have: things to remember and things to look forward to and things to eat right now. We make the most of what is in front of us, in the pantry, or the refrigerator, or on the counter. We “watch what it is, though it fades away” and it’s a lesson in food, and family, and, yes, life. Persimmons come, peaches go. Padrons give way to pomegranates. These are the things I think they’ll remember about growing up in California. That, and maybe cooking with sticks.
I love peeking in other people’s shopping bags and baskets. The other day a fellow Trader Joe’s shopper snagged my cart by accident and as I wheeled hers up and down the aisles, I marveled at what different groceries she found — it was as if we were shopping in different stores — but after I retrieved my cart, I paused at the cookie aisle to pick up a box of the maple leaf cream sandwiches I’d seen in hers.
At the grocery store, I like to imagine what’s on a fellow shopper’s menu based on what I see go down the conveyor belt ahead of my purchases. Recently, it was 4 white onions, a can of frozen limeade, and a bag of ice. Um, onion tart and margaritas? One can only hope. For me, the grocery store is more for last minute pick-ups than the big weekly shop, so I wind up with random assortments like this:
That’s a basket that says I’m really hungry (sushi & mojo bar), Eli is hungry and I’m too hungry myself to maintain high standards (Annie’s canned spaghetti-Os); but I have Ben on my mind, too: there’s a birthday cake to decorate (milk chocolate for the frosting; candles; colored sugar sprinkles); and I’m wondering if he might like adzuki beans better than cannellini (I’m trying to up his iron intake) so I grab a can rather than invest the time in dried.
But nobody asked me about my basket, because at the grocery store, it seems, that’s unseemly. Is it because at the grocery store we’re more likely to buy packaged foods — dump and heat things — rather than items we actually cook? Or is that just me? Maybe it’s just the atmosphere of the store which makes it a place folks don’t typically chat about their choices.
Regardless, it’s one more reason why I love shopping at the farmer’s market. Here, we’re all buying fresh ingredients, and both the other shoppers and the farmers are happy to share ideas about what to do with them. Don’t know how to prepare agretti? Ask the guy who’s buying a pound! We ate broccolini recently, and the boys studied the buds closely, unable to remember what a broccoli flower looks like. At the Sunday market, one of the farmers had both flowering broccolini and flowering arugula, which I’d never seen. What to do with them? Saute the first, salad the second, said the nice farmer from Marin Roots. So I bought bunches of each and the boys nibbled on the flowers like little goats. The verdict? thumbs up on the flowering broc, but the arugula flowers, while tasty in my salad, were too spicy for the boys’ taste. This time of year, the farmers are starting to pile up all sorts of new greens on their tables, and if you ask me, it’s fun to share what we’re doing with them.
Every summer, I feel torn. The grasshopper part of me (do you remember your fables?) wants to gorge on all the varieties of stone fruit, gorgeous red tomatoes, tender peas and sweet corn, all the bright colorful variety of fruits and vegetables that remind me that even when it’s cold and foggy in my neighborhood of San Francisco, not far away the sun is shining on warm and summery farms and orchards.
And then there is the other part of me — the ant part– who can’t help thinking ahead to the days when it is cold all over the bay area, and our produce selections are far more limited: chard and kale, apples and pears, oranges, oranges, oranges. That’s when I want to freeze the berries, turn the stone fruits into interesting jams, make gallons of pesto for our winter pasta.
I’m trying to do both. Instead of being a miser with berries (or any of the rest of it), I’m trying to buy plenty to eat now, cook with, and stock for later. If strawberries are $4 a pint at the market but $10 for three, I’ll buy the three pints and freeze two. Basil is a couple dollars a bunch, so I buy four at a time for pesto now and more pesto in February. I’m spending more money at the market than usual, but with any luck this will translate into some winter savings and, perhaps just as important, a bright taste of summer when we’re deep in our rainy winter.
And at the risk of getting more “how-to” and advice giving than I am comfortable with, here is the new way we’re keeping pesto. Our ice cube trays (a gift to one of the boys from a friend) happen to be small stars and penguin shapes, and while they’re excellent for lemon and lime juice cubes, they’re a little small for pesto. So in the midst of my all my muffinbaking earlier this spring, Tony proposed we freeze cupcake-size portions of pesto. Works for me:
All of a sudden, it seems, the stone fruit is in the market. We have peaches, plums, apricots–and big, sloping piles of bright red cherries. The cherry season is short, and very sweet. And while we have a cherry pitter, and sometimes use it (ice cream, tarts, once in a red wine reduction for lamb), the cherries rarely last long enough to make it into something as complicated as a recipe.
I’m all about simple, these days, and letting my children experience food in its whole, pure state, so when the cherries come home on Sunday I pour them into a big glass bowl and set them in the middle of our home’s Command Central (aka the Kitchen Table) with a small bowl of water for rinsing and a smaller bowl for pits. We have an open floor plan, so all day long the kids & their friends & Kory and I pick, dip, & eat. On Memorial Day they were ravaged before, during, and after dinner as the kids carried the three bowls back and forth from appetizer to dinner to dessert table.
They’re a snack, of course, but because we eat only what’s in season at our local market things like cherries feel like a rare treat. This is one of the great things about eating locally and seasonally. On the one hand, things taste the way they should–& impeccably fresh–but it’s also exciting every time something new shows up. And yes, they are expensive. At $5-7/lb they cost us. But I think it’s worth it to have such an excellent snack to binge on for a few days, and in the long run, that $7 is teaching the kids about many, many things besides how great cherries taste. And it’s keeping them healthy. With seasonal eating, we appreciate each crop all the more, we look forward to each new harvest, and we really do celebrate every mouthful. Even Ella and Finn know that they’re getting something special.
The cherries, on the other hand, are lucky if they see Tuesday morning.