Monday, July 17, 2006

It’s Too Hot For Baking, We’re Eating ‘Em Straight Out The Box

I gave up any gardening ambitions a long time ago, partly because I have no green thumb, and partly because I’d much rather visit the Farmers’ Market in downtown Minneapolis for fresh produce. You have to get up early, and parking is a nightmare, but it’s one of my very favorite places to be on a sunny Saturday morning.

The market is made up of six or seven covered walkways, each one the length of a city block and lined on both sides with vendors’ tables. A few stands sell things that were obviously shipped in (last I heard, pineapples and mangoes don’t grow in Minnesota), but most of the tables are covered with cardboard boats that overflow with locally grown, seasonal produce. This time of year, the variety is amazing—summer squash, potatoes, fresh herbs, cucumbers, snow and sugar snap peas, onions, sweet corn, watermelon... even strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Plastic buckets of water are crammed full of bunches of every kind of flower, and a few potted garden plants are still for sale, many marked down, since planting season has been over for a while now. You can buy real maple syrup, honey, home-made salsas and jams, olives, cheese, fresh bread, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and organic eggs. At the south end of the market, artists sell hand-crafted jewelry, wooden birdhouses, and children’s dresses made from flour sacks. For the person who has everything, you can buy a tie-dyed T-shirt, a knockoff Kate Spade handbag, or alpaca-wool mittens imported from South America. Some booths are there every weekend, others come and go.

The aromas of roasted corn, fresh herbs, smoked sausage and coffee mingle deliciously. Here and there, musicians play for dollar bills thrown into their instrument cases. Vendors and shoppers of every ethnicity speak an array of languages. There’s no haggling, and please don’t squeeze the tomatoes.

Saturday morning, the DemiGoddesses and I arrived at the market at about 8:00 a.m., which is a little later than I usually prefer. By 9:00 on weekends, the place is so crammed with bodies that it’s hard to move. My usual strategy is to start at the south end, where the artists are, and then walk through the produce stands, looking everything over once before going back to buy what I need at the stalls where the merchandise and prices seem the best. But since the crowd was growing, and also because it was already close to 80 degrees (on its way to hitting 100 later that day), in the interest of speed I picked things up here and there as we went along the first time through.

I tried to spread my purchases out among several different sellers. $1 for lettuce here, $2 for green beans there, $2 for zucchini from a man who spoke English to me, but asked for change for my $5 bill from an older woman behind the table (his mother?) in Hmong. The tote bag over my shoulder grew heavier with each purchase.

An extra-squeaky taste sample enticed me into buying a bag of cheese curds (fresh from Wisconsin). We resisted the giant cinnamon rolls, but eventually succumbed to cherry turnovers, and the three of us dribbled a trail of pastry crumbs as we walked along. We also bought fresh-squeezed limeade, which tasted especially good in the heat. By the time we had seen everything, my tote bag was full and all three of us were sweating. But before heading for the car, I had to go back for one more thing.

It was a splurge, and I may live to regret it, but given my passion for fresh cherries, a 20 lb. box doesn’t seem completely outrageous. And at $1 a pound, even if the Demis and I only eat half of them, they’ll still cost half what they do at the grocery store.

Anybody got cherry pitter I can borrow?


Joe said...

You're free to borrow my cherry pitter, but it'd probably simpler to find one in-state.

That's something I miss about Seattle: fresh, plentiful, cheap cherries. They've got them here in NY, but it just ain't the same.

Anonymous said...

Best. Feta. Ever. at that olive stand. I highly recommend it if you have yet to try it (and, of course, if feta's your thing).

EverydaySuperGoddess said...

Oh, feta is most definitely my thing. Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

Here is something nearly custom that could address that for you.