Wednesday, October 15, 2008
by Jenny Gardiner
Contrary to my surname, I am not a gardener. I kill everything I try to grow; thank goodness that hasn't applied to my children or pets.
So perhaps because of that shortcoming, I have the utmost respect for those with a gift for cultivating the soil and reaping a bounty of fantastical fruits and vegetables from a pile of compost and soil. Particularly because the only manure I am good at cultivating is the verbal kind.
I guess this is why I so look forward to my weekly visits to the farmer's market, that Saturday morning Mecca for devotees of all things farm fresh. And why I am sad that this weekend marks the end of the season. Because it is there that one can revel in the finest and freshest of what nature has to offer each summer, without sullying a fingernail, wrenching a back, or being maimed by an onslaught of mosquitoes and other predatory insects, all of which prevent me from favoring gardening as a pastime.
For years it was a tradition for my son and me to rise before dawn to arrive at the farmer’s market for first pick of what’s available. Now that he’s in college, he's rarely home to join me, and so instead I go as his emissary. And without his voice of reason, I am doomed to fall prey to my produce-shopping downfall: excessive culinary ambition.
You see, something about the farmer’s market elicits overly grandiose plans in me. I don’t exactly intend to shop to excess. But overbuy is exactly what I do. Like a man who, in the heat of passion, prematurely blurts out false declarations of love, I, in my farmer’s market fervor, end up scooping up far more than any reasonable person could actually use before it goes bad. And like said man, I am sheepishly left to compensate for my foolish impulsivity.
By the time I leave the place each Saturday morning, I have flats of berries (after all, I can freeze them for future use!), sacks full of tomatoes (can you think of anything better than fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes on a hot summer’s day?), a dozen plus ears of corn (you never know what last-minute entertaining demands will arise), and lettuce for the masses.
I know that this binge-mentality is downright insane. All I need to do is return home after my shopping venture to realize that I have a crisper drawer full of the previous week’s spoils, spoiling. So before I can even put away what I’ve bought, I must weed through the detritus of my previous farmer’s market extravaganza, shifting and cramming to make room for what’s newer, better, of the moment.
There is that moment of relish that justifies it all, when I bite into a strawberry whose flood of sweet juices reminds me of why I go so overboard. Or with that first intoxicating morsel of local corn, so fresh the kernels are as tender as a baby’s skin. Or when I realize that my kids will eat vegetables, as long as they taste not chalky or overly processed, but as nature intended then to taste--with a hint of sweet and a burst of flavor, thus planting a seed of memory that will at some point leave them wanting more.
Sure, there are the many downsides to my excessive farmer’s market indulging--the swarm of fruit flies that invariably settle into that bowl of ripe peaches on the counter; the inevitable cucumber I find lost at the bottom of the vegetable bin, long past it’s days of use and rendered a puddle of its former self. And when I return home from my my market foray, my husband gets a little stressed out.
“We'll never be able to use all this!" He laments, wringing his hands in despair at my inability to choose more pragmatically.
And I know he’s right. I’m the first one to admit that my culinary ambition far exceeds my allotment of free time in which I can devote myself to cooking. And so, week in and week out, I over-shop and watch things rot, while I open my refrigerator door and think, “Damn, I really should do something with those fava beans before they turn black in there!”
But on those occasions in which I find my time and interest intersecting at just the right moment, and I do get around to peeling and quartering the thirty peaches for fresh summertime pie, I know, for a brief moment, the effort and expenditure has been worth it.
And if nothing else, at least my money is helping to support that dying breed of artisans, the hard-working local farmers who toil in their fields despite the heat, the rain, the bugs and the backache, to provide us with the finest local foods available.
And as long as they keep up their end of the bargain, which keeps me out of the garden, I’ll continue to support their efforts by successfully depleting their stocks, well into the autumn.
And when I pull out a my bag of frozen blueberries in January to bake a pie, the smell and taste evoking memories of summers past indulging in a succulent slice of pie on my grandmother’s back porch, I know my excesses were worth it, if only for a fleeting moment.