Posted by: Bill Tracy | June 6, 2010

Good, and Good for You

There may be nothing better in the world than fresh produce. While sex may be a close second, fresh produce doesn’t saddle you with children or introduce you to divorce lawyers. Fresh produce is good, and good for you. Like Mom always said, “Eat your vegetables!”

Blueberries

The small town of Runnemede, NJ was at the tail end of a transition from farming community to suburban enclave in the 1950s when I was growing up there. Three blocks from our house there was still a small farm on what was long ago the historic Batt plantation. On a sunny summer afternoon I could be found sitting in the corn rows, plucking ears from stalks and eating them fresh. The sugar in corn starts a transformation to starch the minute the ear is detached from the stalk. Honestly, there is nothing sweeter than corn a minute after picking. For what I did not pay that farmer for his corn I more than make up for in appreciation of that unique experience. If you ever have a chance, hie thee to a cornfield and start picking and eating – no, cooking is not necessary! And you can leave the butter and salt at home too.

There was also the Davis produce stand in Runnemede, an open-air operation on the Black Horse Pike. I passed this gem twice each day, to and from school. They were good people and sold fresh, locally grown produce from the various seasonal crops in south Jersey — peas, asparagus, the incomparable “Jersey tomato,” strawberries, corn, blueberries, peaches, apples, cranberries — yes, the “Garden State” lived up to its name in those days. I was fascinated by that produce stand, and if I lingered long enough, the good folks running the place often gave me one of whatever was abundant. I think my Mother still rues the day they gave me a pomegranate, but usually it was something less stainful.

Giving Good WeightBy the late 1950s, the horse-drawn produce carts that once plied city streets had passed into history. The city folks became entirely dependent on large grocery chain stores and their profit-driven buyers and long distribution chains. Before long, city people had lost all contact with the concept of “fresh produce.” In the 1970s, some cities created “green markets.” Parks, vacant lots, wherever there was open space farmers trucked in fresh produce they had grown on their own farms and sold directly to the people. John McPhee wrote a book, Giving Good Weight about this phenomenon. The book begins:

“You people come into the market — the Greenmarket, in the open air under the downpouring sun–and you slit the tomatoes with your fingernails. With your thumbs, you excavate the cheese. You choose your stringbeans one at a time. You pulp the nectarines and rape the sweet corn. You are something wonderful, you are — people of the city — and we, who are, almost without exception strangers here, are as absorbed with you as you seem to be with the numbers on our hanging scales.”

Suddenly, a city person could have a dinner using local produce picked that morning instead of a week ago and trucked from hundreds or thousands of miles away. It was good, and good for them. It was also good for local farmers who could eliminate all the distribution layers that had grown to insulate them from the consumers of their produce.

Today, most cities still have some form of “green market” activity. Many have become less pure with addition of “crafts,” baked items and other ancillary goods. It’s not just tomatoes and plums and potatoes anymore, and the prices are often no better than supermarkets. Even at their worst however, they are a wonderful experience. Few people know more about their product and how to use it well than farmers — and the opportunity to buy directly from them and talk about food is priceless. I suggest that when you get to thinking you know something about cooking from watching the celebrity chefs on TV, go to a greenmarket and talk with a farmer. Then you really will know something about cooking.

Here in Angels Camp, there is a “Farmers Market” on Friday evenings that follows the greenmarket tradition. It’s held in the park downtown, Utica Park, from 5 PM to dusk. Recently I visited, took a few pictures and talked with some of the sellers and buyers. Here’s what it was like:

Angels Camp Farm Market

Produce Transaction

Cheap at any price. Farmers bring their fresh produce to Utica Park, and for a few dollars we get the best eating anywhere.

Canned tomatoes

Some fresh produce gets "put up" to preserve it's goodness. These are the best looking tomatoes I've ever seen through glass.

Cherries

Cherries are everywhere this time of year. Such a bounty!

Entertainment

Entertainment wasn't forgotten. I enjoyed his good music.

Lemon curd

I didn't realize human being were permitted to taste anything as wonderful as this lemon curd. It also comes in a lime variety.

Katie P

Katie P, the impresario of all things lemon and lime. She makes the great lemon and lime curds in Mokelumne Hill.

Green garlic

Green garlic. The farmer tells me this is just like green onion (scallion) but it has a garlic flavor. Use the same way. These plants, he said, were put in the ground last November.

Bath bombs

I didn't think there was anything good about bombs; looks like I was wrong. Toss one of these in your warm bath and enjoy the frizz and bubbles. Sold by Christine from Blue World in Sonora. She also produces wonderful photographs at: http://www.blueworldphotos.com/

Testing fruit

Giving the produce the old touch test. The ones that feel tasty go in your bag.

Tatto

Tattooed ladies also go to the farmer's market.

Cherry basket

Behind the scenes. Someone has to put those beautiful cherries in the baskets.

Bird houses

Birds go to church. For less than $10, you can give the birds a place to go to church too. This was a first time for these folks from Jamestown.

Honey

The magic of glass and light. That jar of blackberry honey now resides in my kitchen. Produce of Bees Brothers Apiary in Copperopolis.

Blueberries

Blueberries all in a row. Who could resist. Some of them are going into my pancakes.

Different drummer

A different drummer. There is a place for quietly reading a book on a summer's eve at the market.

Oils

Oil should be tasted, not dumped into the ocean.

Cherry on top

Every good produce post should end with a cherry on top.

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Responses

  1. These photos are amazing! And your descriptions make me want all of it! The photo of the blueberries in a line was insanely beautiful. I love seeing the world through your eyes, from Tea Parties to Farmers’ Market. Thanks, Bill!

  2. Bill, the mouth is watering…the pics are so very vibrant with color. Davis’ produce is still there and I also shop at Verchios over on Brooklawn circle. The GARDEN STATE, I guess I’ve gotten used to produce stands being available, that actually is the first thing I notice about other states when traveling there aren’t any. Just driving down Delsea Drive there is a stand outside someones house selling whatever vegetable they grow in their garden. And…the silver queen corn in July piled high in the wagon parked in the front of the field…hmmmm can’t wait:) Their is no need to cook it…just husk it on the side of the road and enjoy:)

  3. What a wonderful article. Oh and those photos are gorgeous. I am the Market Manager at Angels Camp Fresh Fridays Farmers Market, I absolutely appreciate your detailed analysis of our market, I wished we had a chance to meet. Certainly find me if you come again. We love good articles and I appreciate yours so very much, it was a wonderful surprise in my email this morning. Thank You, Theresa Douglas.

  4. I remember Davis’ produce market. My mom was a daily visitor. The old days were days when you went to the “store” or “market” everyday to get your food for the next day. Sometimes mom would go and get food for a couple of days, but always we went to get a fresh loaf of bread down at the store on the corner of BHP and CBR.

    When I moved to the midwest, I was (and still am) blessed with a farmer’s market that opens in early June and closes in late November, and provides local, fresh, home-grown fruits and veggies during that season.

    I used to can a lot during that fresh produce season. Tomatoes, peaches, pickles, apple sauce, green beans, corn, etc. Now my girls are copying my canning urge (which I copied from my own mother) and keeping their local produce markets in business for another year.

    Oh, how I love visiting the Farmer’s market. And, hey, it’s almost time for tomatoes. They’re really early this year because it’s been so warm. I can’t wait!


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