This post, much like Volume One, is equally inspired by Karen Le Billon’s, French Kids Eat Everything. Just as France has a “food culture” worth connecting to, so does America. It’s easy enough to simply state ours is a culture of fast food and obesity, but I would argue that premise isn’t very…cultured. It’s habit. Bad, bad habit. Inside our borders, we indeed have a thriving food culture, bubbling all around us. I’ve found the best way to connect to food is to go TO THE FOOD. Not at the grocery stores, unfortunately, where very little food is sold. There are many things in boxes and bags. Aisles and aisles, in fact, but it isn’t food. Author Le Billon makes the argument that while those boxes are filled with calories, they are not filled with nutrition. Um…you think? Stop. Let’s not get me started down that path today. Today, we celebrate.
Some Farmer’s Markets are cheap, but alas, I’ve found that most are not. Still, when I’m looking for food inspiration, nothing beats walking from stall to stall and asking growers about their produce. Honey pollen can be used to treat allergies. Patty-pans are super cute summer squash which will meet my frying pan tonight (lower left corner of the picture above). Mitch and his daughter Danielle sell the world’s best lemonade. Try roasting some fingerling potatoes this week with a few fresh herbs…it will change your religion about ugly, little potatoes. Who has an aversion to ugly, little potatoes? I’ll admit it: I did. But now I search for them like hidden treasures.
Over time, I’ve learned the natural rhythm of when things come in season, so I never miss my favorites. I start calling the strawberry farmer’s in late May. Blueberries will be turned into jam around the 4th of July. English Peas come and go in the blink of an eye in early June, depending on the variety, most coming in a bit earlier. Indiana Peaches are unfortunately not my favorite crop, but I can turn them into jam in mid-July. Lodi apples are in now, and it’s a short season as well. I turn them into a recipe with pork loins that can be frozen, assuring I’ll have my favorite tart apples paired with a sage-cornbread stuffing for months to come.
I never tire of asking questions. Of teasing the corn on the cob guys who stand in the sweltering heat, grilling corn in the husk and dipping it in butter. They charge an INSANE amount of money ($2.50 a cob!), and people line up 8 deep to pay for it. It’s worth every penny. I never miss saying hello to the Harvest Moon Flower Farmers. Of wandering off the hot street into the cool City Market to inhale our corn while looking over the now crowded historic space. We usually find we need just one more thing inside. A mini hot pretzel (they are not so “mini”, but are the best prices in town). Maybe we need to linger at the French food stand or the Greek restaurant. Sometimes we just stand, close our eyes, smell, and try to guess what might be near. Jumbo’s? Papa Roux’s? The vintage jewelry store always draws the girls in. The florist arranges the most beautiful roses, and the girls swear they’ll someday own a shop that sells nothing but daisies and roses. Then there is the mandatory begging over the rows and rows of pastries and cookies. So much of the begging.
I don’t know how the city did it, but yet again, the City Market has risen from the ashes. It’s once again full, bustling, and a truly diverting place to be. Parking sucks. The heat sucks. It’s naive to assume connecting to food will be convenient or cheap. BUT, tonight there will be unbelievably fresh green beans, cornmeal fried patty-pans, and herb roasted chicken for dinner. Connecting to that plate of food makes it worth our efforts. I hope you are enjoying our “Culinary Summer” adventures. Wish you could join us at the table tonight!