October 03, 2009

Going Plum Loco Over Farmer's Markets Posted by Kate Flora (This is Kate, in for Doranna, who was supposed to be subbing for Leanne, but ended up subbing for me on Wednesday. Oho. If you can follow that, you're amazing!) One of my early memories is of the summer my father raised a huge crop of cantaloupe. Usually, the Maine summer was so short that getting melons to grow was almost impossible. But the weather cooperated, and we harvested an amazing number of cantaloupe and little, bowling ball sized watermelon. I remember how they looked, hastily gathered before the threat of an impending frost, mounded up in the back of the old Ford pick-up. The patterns of the pale golden cantaloupes looking like they were wrapped in golden fishnets, and the watermelons a tiger-stripey pattern of variegated greens. An entire truckload of melons! We ate melon and melon and melon, until it wasn't a treat anymore. Because I grew up with produce in bulk--you harvested a crop when it was ready, and you harvested a LOT of it--I have a strong affinity for the bright mounds of produce at farmer's markets. Indeed, I don't know if this happens to others, but I find that I always buy too much because I can't wait to reproduce that bounty at home in my own kitchen. I carry my bundles home and arrange everything on the counter to admire the beauty, all the bright reds and greens and purples and yellows. Fingerling potatoes, blue potatoes, golden potatoes, red potatoes. Then I get out my cookbooks and start thinking about all the very cool recipes I can cook with my bounty. Soon, my countertops are covered with vegetables and cookbooks. And I'm in heaven. I'm also passionate about farmer's markets because I appreciate all the work that goes into raising vegetables. My childhood summers began, each day, with a list of the chores that had to be done that day before we could swim, or play with friends. The majority of those chores involved the production of food. Weeding a certain number of rows in the garden, or picking the beans, or shelling the peas, or pitting the cherries or snapping the green beans. My mother, who was deeply interested in seeds and in preserving the best representatives of one year's harvest for the next year, would make a game out of shelling the dried shell beans. The goal was to find the all red beans and keep them separate. The one with the most red beans won. I don't remember anymore what we won, but the excitement of cracking open those shells and finding a whole row of red beans was fantastic. And the beans got processed. This week, I was on my way home to the Western suburbs from Harvard Square when I decided to indulge one of my other passions--second-hand shopping. I pulled into the lot outside Davis Square, my place to park for a quick run through the Goodwill Store, and discovered that half of the lot was a farmer's market. I didn't find any treasures at Goodwill, but I came home with apples, lovely organic tomatoes (among the few that survived this summer's blight), and a small green basket of blue plums. I resisted the rich curly red kale with difficulty. The plum purchase came with a delightful bit of banter about how I'd been dreaming about plums, and was I looking for sugarplums, and how I must be plum delighted to have found some. So tonight, while my husband and son were working out down in the basement, I took my gorgeous blue plums, sliced them in half, added some frozen raspberries, a handful of brown sugar, a dash of cassis, and wrapped them in a crust. Baked, they became a delicious free-form plum tart. Some farmer's markets have baked goods. That makes it hard to get home with only a virtuous basket of veggies. Last summer, in the San Juan Islands, the farmer's market had produce, and heady dried lavender, and wonderful baked goods, and music. We bought an armful of goodies, including fresh baked bread, and went and sat by the sea and had a deliciously eclectic picnic. My local farmer's market, in Brunswick, Maine, changes weekly. Once week, the local animal shelter was there with adorable animals. Sometimes there are lovely quilts. There are always potholders made from every imaginable vegetable and fruit print. I can get my fresh goat cheese from the woman who raises the goats, lobsters from the lobstermen's wives, and armloads of flowers. The landscape designer is there with exotic plants, and there are always fresh herbs and pies. This week, my sister-in-law Emily, who works for Timeless Treasures, one of the companies which make those yummy fruit and vegetable prints, sent me a thank you present for her week on the coast of Maine. She sent veggie napkins. She says if I pick which print I like best, she will make me a tablecloth. Here are the patterns. Green beans, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, and cabbages. Which one do you think I should choose?

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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