Tag Archives: local food

The last ones of the year

It was 3:30, an hour and a half after the farmer’s market opened. I walked around the corner and saw that there weren’t any lines of people waiting any more. It doesn’t pay to be late at our farmer’s market.

I stopped at the fruit stand. “No blueberries, huh?” I said. Just in case he had a few stray pints hidden away in the coolers in the back of his truck. He had pears and apples and peaches, but no blueberries.

“No, sorry,” he said. “I had a few pints earlier but they sold out quick.”

“Any more coming?” I asked, even though he had already said last week that this week would be the end.

“Nope,” he said, “That’s it, the end of the season.”

After I did all my shopping, I had cherry tomatoes for Carol, squash, Swiss chard, two loaves of bread, two dozen eggs, carrots, beets, and some sunflowers to put on the table at home, and a few other things. It was a lot of food to carry the four blocks to our apartment. It was a lot of food, but even so I kept thinking: I was too late for the last blueberries of the year.

At its height

This week has been filled with those perfect days we sometimes get in late August, when it feels like autumn at night yet becomes pleasantly hot by mid-day; when we are drawn outdoors to let the mellow sun drive the last of the New England cold out of our bones.

Summer is at its height: the parking lot for the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is as almost as full as you’ll ever see it; and there are as many cars as you’ll ever see over on State Pier near where the Cuttyhunk ferry docks.

A few tourists are even wandering around New Bedford, far from their usual haunts. Usually, tourists in New Bedford walk one block from the National Park’s visitor center down to the Whaling Museum, and then get back in their cars and drive away. But today, Carol and I saw several tourists in other, less-touristy, areas. We saw a man pushing a stroller on Macarthur Drive near Fisherman’s Wharf, where he was accosted by one of the more insistent panhandlers (the fellow who once, when I told him I didn’t have any money for him, screamed at me: “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!”). Only a perfect summer day could draw a tourist to walk along Macarthur Drive.

If I had any doubt that summer is at its height, at it sfull glory right now, that doubt would have been eradicated by the farmer’s market on Thursday. While I stood in line at each farmer’s table, waiting my turn, I looked over the biggest diversity of produce we’ll see all year: blueberries, plums, peaches, pears, summer apples, cataloupe; broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow straightneck squash, patty-pan squash, acorn squash, lettuce, kale, collards, pole beans, bush beans, garlic; gladiolas, sunflowers, and other cut flowers. There were so many things for sale I’ve forgotten them all.

Summer is at its height, yet the sun sets three minutes earlier every day; I keep getting surprised by how soon it grows dark. Summer is at its height, but yesterday I planted some more fall flowers, white and red chrysanthemums, and tied up the asters. And today I seeded our tiny little raised-bed garden with a fall planting of Swiss chard.

Spring watch

Carol is friends with Eva, and Eva is a farmer who grows organic greens primarily for the restaurant trade. Carol and Eva have a deal: Carol goes now and then to pull weeds for Eva, for it is hard to find weeders, and in return Eva gives greens and other produce to Carol.

Today Carol went to Eva’s place and picked some greens in the green house: baby spinach, arugula, various kinds of lettuce, miner’s lettuce, and some other things that we couldn’t identify. These are the first locally-grown greens I’ve eaten all winter. The flavor was stunning.

All the “fresh” food they ship from California (or even farther away) is a couple of weeks old by the time it reaches the supermarket, and has lost most of its flavor and goodness. As for frozen and canned food, about all you can say is that it’s edible, and at this time of year it’s often better than the so-called “fresh” produce. And this is what we have to eat for most of the winter: it keeps you alive, but it doesn’t taste like much.

A month ago, I did manage to get some wintered-over parsnips which had been grown nearby, and they were very good indeed. But I had forgotten just how good fresh greens can be.

Autumn watch

I had to go to the gum doctor again today for another check-up, and on the way back I stopped at Verrill Farm, the farmstand Carol and I used to shop at when we lived down the street from it. They still have lots of fresh local fruits and vegetables: butternut squash, Hubbard squash (big and blue and warty), acorn squash; bags of curly spinach, and bunches of lacinto kale and curly-leaf kale; a few last tomatoes; parsnips (creamy white gnarled roots tied in neat bunches with the greens still attached), carrots (long gloriously orange blunt-tipped ones, and crookedy pointed yellow ones); Jerusalem artichokes; Brussels sprouts; bright bunches of red radishes and red-and-white radishes with rounded green leaves; Yukon gold potatoes, little wooden boxes of expensive German fingerling potatoes, Green Mountain potatoes (oddly-shaped with deep eyes), red potatoes, big long Russet potatoes; big yellow rutabagas, and this year they’re growing the white Macomber turnips that originated down here in Westport; and of course there are the native apples: McIntoshes, Spencers, Empires, Macouns, and Cortlands (although they had none of the older varieties that keep better and cook better).

As I picked up a box of Jerusalem artichokes, a woman asked me if you had to peel them before she cooked them, adding, “They look like they would be difficult to peel, they’re so small.” I said that I peeled them and ate them raw, but I knew some people ate them with the skins on. “What do they taste like?” I said they tasted nutty and, well, good. She was about to ask me something else when one of the cashiers who has worked there for years overheard our conversation, ignored me, bustled up to her and said, “You’ll love them, one of my customers doesn’t peel them, she just gently scrubs them and cooks them.” “Gently scrubs — you mean like mushrooms?” “Yes, just like that,” said the officious cashier, who obviously knew nothing about Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes are nothing at all like mushrooms: you do not wash them like mushrooms, you do not prepare them like mushrooms, and they do not taste like mushrooms. Under the cashier’s onslaught, the other woman put the box of Jerusalem artichokes in her shopping basket, and slunk away.

That officious cashier made the sale, but I wonder how happy that woman will be with her purchase. Scrub them gently? If she doesn’t want to peel them, she’d be better off scrubbing the hell out of them, then trimming off the unappetizing bits. Mostly, we North Americans eat a very limited number of foodstuffs these days, and most of the food we eat comes out of plastic containers or cardboard boxes. It’s hard to change the habits embedded in us by all that prepared food. You can’t change those habits by telling someone Jerusalem artichokes are “like mushrooms.” Tell them that Jerusalem artichokes are a gustatory adventure, like nothing they’ve ever tried before: nutty, sweet, with a lovely crunchy texture when you eat them raw. Tell them the truth about the food they’ve never eaten, and maybe they’ll be too intimidated to buy it this time, but you will have planted a seed in their imaginations, and they will realize that there’s a whole world of food out there that they haven’t tried — a whole world of local food that they have been shut out of because, for all the immense floor space, supermarkets actually have very little variety.

As for me, I bought a big bag of Cortland apples, ten pounds of orange carrots (which taste nothing like the California carrots you get in the supermarket), Brussels sprouts, ten pounds of Green Mountain potatoes (which are firmer, whiter, and taste different than the limp potatoes you get in the supermarket), lacinto kale, and some of that late-fall spinach (which tastes different from the plastic-wrapped spinach you get in the supermarket because of the soil and the weather, and because it’s much fresher). I also got some Jerusalem artichokes. I think I’ll go eat one right now: peel it, and bite into it raw.

Autumn watch

In this part of the world, this is the best time of year for food.

At the downtown farmer’s market on Thursday, the produce was incredible, and cheap. From Mary, I bought the usual dozen eggs and two loaves of her oatmeal bread, a few pounds of her freshly dug red potatoes, some other vegetables — and she had the first Westport Macomber turnips of the year: huge white mild turnips, originally a cross between radishes and more traditional turnips, which you can eat raw or cooked, a local vegetable that you can’t find outside of southeastern Massachusetts. This turnip is one of the finest fall vegetables and its arrival should be heralded with a trumpet fanfare: a fanfare for the uncommon turnip. From the fruit grower, I got several pounds of Cortland apples; I used to be a big fan of Winesaps and Northern Spies, but his firm white-fleshed Cortlands have a superb texture and make just about the smoothest and best apple sauce: substantial, not at all watery, and nicely flavored. From the Mattapoisett farmers, I got carrots and cantaloupe (they’re still picking cataloupes) and cauliflower and, best of all, cranberries — real cranberries, with little bits of twigs and tiny leaves from the cranberry plant, in all shades of red from deepest crimson to pale green faintly tinged with red: just as small blueberries taste better than the huge agribusiness blueberries you find wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, so real cranberries are more flavorful, both more tart and sweeter at the same time. The next day, we drove out to Alderbrook Farm in Russell’s Mills and bought some local honey, and I made a huge pot of apple cranberry sauce, made from the Cortland apples and the Mattapoisett cranberries and the local honey — it turned a warm reddish-pink color — and I spread it on the oatmeal bread, and ate until I’d eaten too much.

On Friday, Carol called me on my cell phone and said, would I like to go to dinner at the farmer’s house? Carol worked for a couple of days pulling weeds at a nearby organic farm this week; she needed to get out of the house and away from the computer and the freelance writing, besides the fact that a little extra money is always welcome in our household. So we went for dinner at the farmer’s house, with another couple we know slightly. Before dinner, we walked around the farm; it is in its glory in this season. The summer squash spill out over the edges of the raised beds, covered with flowers and half-grown squash; the celery stands large and robust; the fall beets have grown tall leaves, rooted in deep red balls shouldering their way up out of the dirt; the salad greens show bright colors against the dark earth, light green and dark green and deep red. And the herbs were just as beautiful as the salad greens — curly parsley and Italian parsley, rosemary (Carol had weeded the rosemary bed that morning), different kinds of sage, chives, and other herbs I couldn’t recognize. After we met young Murphy, an Irish Jack Russell terrier who is being trained to catch the voles which plague the farm, and Murphy’s owner who was plowing up one bed of the farm with a tractor-mounted rototiller, we went in for dinner. Dinner included New Bedford scallops sauteed in fresh leeks and herbs, boiled potatoes newly dug, sweet and tender, and some kind of wild mushroom I had never eaten before.

So what if today is the autumnal equinox? So what if the nighttime will be longer than the daylight for the next six months? So what if winter is coming in? This is the best time of year for food, the best time of the year to be alive.

Slow food

Because tomorrow is a holiday, I worked on my sermon today. It did not go well. The sermon remains unfinished. It was a gray, gloomy day, with spatters of rain now and then, and by the time the sun went down I was feeling pretty gray and gloomy myself. Carol got home at a quarter to seven, bringing groceries. I gave up on the sermon for today, and we began cooking for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

We had been assigned to cook squash, turnips, and pumpkin pie. I cut three butternut squash in half, took out the seeds, and put them in the oven to bake for an hour and a quarter. Then I peeled some more squash for the pumpkin pie (if you don’t tell anybody about it, squash makes a better pumpkin pie than does pumpkin). Carol cut it up and steamed it. When it was soft, I ran it through the food mill and turned the resulting mush over to Carol, who did whatever magic she does to turn it into a pumpkin custard. While she was doing that, I peeled and chopped up two huge Westport turnips, the really mild variety of turnip that’s grown around here, boiled them, and put them through the food mill. By then it was time for the squash in the oven to come out and get run through the food mill, and the pumpkin pies went into the oven. While the pumpkin pies were cooking, I cleaned up the kitchen while Carol finished writing the article that’s due in a couple of days.

We both work more than full time, so usually we cook on the run, making a quick stir fry or some pasta. It’s easy to forget how satisfying it can be to cook “slow food,” something that takes longer than fifteen minutes from preparing it to eating it. I’m not feeling at all gloomy any more. Yet by the time Friday evening comes around, after I have spent the day finishing that sermon, dinner will be another quick stir fry with some buckwheat noodles. Even though some slow food would probably help restore my soul to balance.


Last Thursday, I bought a half gallon of apple cider at the downtown farmer’s market. I made sure it had no preservatives. On Monday, I took it out of the refrigerator, and broke the seal. By this evening, it was foaming nicely, and I just tried a glass: it’s lightly carbonated, tart, and much of the sweetness is gone. It’s still a little too sweet, though, so I’ll leave it out overnight to turn a little more. It is so nicely fermented that I suspect that our kitchen has now become well colonized by yeast that have escaped from our bread-baking.

What better way to celebrate the coming of late fall than by drinking home-fermented cider?

Autumn watch

After seeing the dentist in Lexington, I had lunch with my dad in Concord, and then headed off to the clothing store in Maynard where I have gotten clothes for the past twenty or thirty years. I went through Nine Acre Corner to get to Maynard, not far from where we used to live, and I decided to stop at Verrill Farm where we used to buy our vegetables.

At the farmstand I got white turnips, regular orange carrots and yellow carrots, green beans, and curly kale. I looked at all the different kinds of winter squash, and picked out a small blue-green warty Hubbard (small for a Hubbard meant it weiched eleven pounds). I passed by the bins full of tomatoes: red tomatoes, pink tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, purplish tomatoes, orange tomatoes. I meant to look for red chili peppers to dry, but got distracted admiring all the other peppers and forgot. The fingerling potatoes looked fresh and smelled earthy. They also had locally-grown fruit: different varieties of apples, Concord grapes, cranberries from Cape Cod.

Cranberries are my favorite fruit, so I bought nearly a pound.

When I got home, I ate about half the cranberries raw: washed, dumped in a bowl, eaten in spoonfuls. They crunch softly, releasing the tiny seeds from the hollow center. The first flavor, really little more than an aroma, is a little like overripe crabapples. Then they taste like a cross between apple cider and blueberries, and then the tartness begins to kick in. After you eat a bowl of them, you can feel the tartness lingering at the back of your mouth and all down your throat. It tastes like autumn, it reminds me of fallen wet leaves and damp earth and autumn rainfall.

Eat your vegetables

I got fresh locally grown rhubarb on Friday. Cooked up a big pot of it. Put some local honey in it, but not too much because I kind of like the bitter taste. Had stewed rhubarb on toast for breakfast today. Had a rhubarb sandwich for lunch. Had chilled rhubarb for a midafternoon snack today when the temperature got up to eighty-five. And I feel virtuous about eating what seems like a dessert three times today. Because rhubarb is really a vegetable. I’m just eating my vegetables.