Three seasons of the year, I find music at the Farmers' Market. Our Saturday market at Waverly is close by, and it is a symphony of colors, aromas, textures, flavors—sweet and savory, soft and crunchy. Maybe you think an apple crisp and fresh shelled peas and just-caught catfish don't commingle nicely, but they fit together like pieces in a puzzle; they complement like beer and cake.
I love the Korean ladies shouting above the tomatoes and the people with their well-mannered dogs. (My life's mission is to touch every dog I meet when I am not with my own mongrels.) I love the hand-printed SCRIMPS onesies and the fresh red clover and sunflower bouquets.
But the Farmers' Market was not on my list this year. Instead, I joined a local produce group. It's a great group, but the price was hefty—around $200, even when we split it with our next-door neighbor—and the haul was weighty. I doubt I would ever do it again.*
The early weeks were like a blind date. You make do with what you have for the night, knowing you don't have to kiss; it'll be over soon. And so it was with Swiss chard and Kale and collard greens. I found recipes on line for the best ways to cook the stalks of leafy greens that invaded my home like aliens, demanding more and more space each day, as if they reproduced like tribbles
. Oh, sure, they're all red-veined and colorful at first
, but then they become furry creatures that expand beyond your ability to store them.
After about the third week, signs that other colors grew from dirt appeared in the form of yellow squash. Then the tomatoes came. And then came the eggplant, the half a cantaloupe, half a yellow watermelon, a dozen green peppers, fingerling potatoes, a dozen tomatoes, butternut squash, 15,000 tiny purple peppers, 50,000 mushy tomatoes, and a single bulb of garlic. And the arugula and arugula and arugula. And the chard. The chard that never stopped. And the beets that went on and on.
Tuesdays were delivery and pickup days. I began to suffer a Tuesday aversion and then, eventually, Tuesday denial. My neighbor worked full time, yet she was always showing up at my door after a hard day of work with market bags full of—yikes—things that looked like more chard. I stir-fried it. I sautéed it. I salted and garlicked it. It still tasted like chard.
We couldn't use the tomatoes and peppers fast enough. I struggled to make enough sauce and salsa and Costa Rican beans and rice. I couldn't keep up. The organic, exotic produce of the ilk I ogled at the Farmers' Market was causing me stress.
As the tomatoes sat rotting in the fruit bowl, as the plastic bags of greens grew exponentially on the refrigerator shelf, their wilted and torn, brown-edged leaves wagging their fingers in my face each time I opened the door for something other than a demanding vegetable, I remembered an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond
(which I remember mostly because of Marie's ubiquitous chocolate cake, the one that serves different duties as celebration and apology and bribe each week) in which Marie complained to Raymond about her gift membership to the Fruit of the Month Club. I thought it bizarre then that anyone would complain about a bag of grapefruits or some cantaloupe each month. But now I realize her predicament.
Sure, you get some grapefruit and cantaloupe and fruits people actually sit down and enjoy with daughters and fathers. But you also get kumquats and kiwis, fruits that demand something more than a peeling and a slicing.
Produce is such a high-maintenance house guest!
Each Tuesday at 5:30, I would hear a knock at the door, and the knot in my stomach would tighten. Oh, no. It's produce day, I would say, moaning the words as if Eyeore had said them. Oh, no. More chard and beets and eggplant to grow rubbery above the produce box, where we kept the staples of our lives: the Brussels sprouts and green beans, the real
broccoli (with green florets), the five-pound bag of carrots, the Vidalia onion, the cauliflower—giant store-shrink-wrapped heads of it.
And so I began to call it Last
In August, I developed a medical problem that forced me to eliminate vegetables from my diet. It was the excuse I needed to end my relationship with fruit and vegetables, putting the onus on the rest of my family for consumption of said wilting things. But even my waste-not-want-not husband couldn't be bothered, his audible sighing stressing us out each time he opened the fridge. He felt responsible. He tried.
But when he wasn't looking, I stuffed the screaming greens and howling tomatoes down the garbage disposal, and I got rid of them.
In mid-November, when I thought we'd officially ended our relationship with the local produce farm, a final knock came. I was not in the kitchen at the time; my husband answered the door. I could hear the swishing of canvas totes and the rustle of plastic bags for transferring. I heard Marty groan and close the door. My stomach dropped. And then I did what I had to do. I plucked out the lone butternut squash for dinner that night, and I tossed the rest—entire bags of chard and arugula and romaine and chard and chard and arugula and tiny spinach leaves covered with sand and anything else I imagined was in those bags.
My husband couldn't even pretend to protest.
*Our local produce group has gotten way better, with more choices. Now we pick up our goods from the farmers' market, so now what's not included can be had elsewhere.
Labels: produce essay