Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To Market, To Market...

Sunflowers and tomatoes from last night's CSA pickup.

Yesterday evening, I picked up my CSA produce, and, wow, I brought home loads of good things:

A nice bunch of sunflowers, 3 lbs. heirloom tomatoes (plus a 20 lb. box of tomatoes for preserving), ever-bearing strawberries, fingerling potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, eggplant (2 kinds), sweet peppers, Walla Walla sweet onions, red cabbage, zucchini, summer squash, cucumber.

Seems to me I've got all the makings for a nice ratatouille. Now it's just a question of which recipe to use-- the one in Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Cooking or the one in Anne Willan's Country Cooking of France, both great cookbooks.

Some of you might remember when I first mentioned the CSA I joined and how much I value being part of this program. The young couple who own the farm that supplies our produce are a sweet, hardworking couple who simply love to farm. They want to run their own small business, grow organic produce, and share quality, healthy, seasonal, picked-the-day-you-get it fruits and vegetables with the community.

It's good to meet face to face with the people who grow your food, to get know their philosophy of farming, to learn what they're dealing with on a day to day basis (last night they talked of the threat of recent near freezing temperatures at their farm) and what they go through to get the produce to us. They'll tell us about the more unusual items they grow and will offer ideas for how we can use them. And they love hearing what we're cooking with their produce and that we are enjoying it.

When I dropped by last our CSA farmers house last evening, I happened to be the only member there, so I had a chance to visit more than usual with our growers. And, as we chatted, they kept adding little bits of extra food-- a small bag of fingerling potatoes a few extra tomatoes-- to our share, and the guy even went into their kitchen and brought out a bowl of blueberries he'd picked yesterday (at another farm) to share a handful of them with Melissa and me.

None of this happens at Safeway. The produce guy there might be really nice and helpful, but he is not going to share blueberries with me from his kitchen. Neither is he really connected to the food he works with except to move it from the storeroom to the shelves. He can probably tell me what country or region it originated from, but he cannot tell me about the land where it grew, the specific growing conditions for that item, or how the farmer is faring.

Once at our CSA, a man was putting his produce into a large bag like this. It's a light-weight, airy, mesh bag that held a lot of food without squishing it. I told the man I liked his bag. He told me he bought it in Mexico. So, I came home and found one online. I'll be buying two of these!

There are local farmers' markets in just about every town or area now, too, and this is another great way to support local growers. It can get expensive to buy at the market, but there's just no way a small farmer can compete price-wise with large retail stores. Instead, the grower is more of a specialist, even an artisan, who provides excellent quality produce that is fresh, in season, often organic or no-spray, often heirloom or an unusual variety, and picked ripe, which makes it far more delicious than what is usually sold in the supermarket, and more nutritious, too.

I like being able to ask the market farmers (who are quite pleased to talk about their produce) about this unusual variety of potato, or that strange cucumber, or what I can do with the tatsoi or garlic scapes (I learned to make garlic scape pesto at the farmers' market). And I think most of us can afford to treat ourselves to at least one delicious pint of fresh-picked strawberries or a perfectly ripe peach or two or just a few beautiful heirloom tomatoes. There's nothing that tastes as good as produce that is this fresh.

When my girls were still living at home, we liked spending a leisurely summer morning at our Saturday farmers' market. We'd shop around for a while and fill our cloth bags with our purchases. Then we might take a short walk to the local used book store, walk on down the street to a coffee shop, and sit outside at a table sipping coffee, chatting, maybe eating a few berries from the market, and flipping through our used bookstore purchases. It's a very nice Saturday morning thing to do. I highly recommend it!