“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
On Sundays when I can go to the farmers’ market, I enjoy the seasonal local produce that is available. Among all the seasons, the harvest season of fall is the most inspiring. It arrives around October, and then by Thanksgiving we have such plenty: pumpkins, squashes, arugula, kale, the dark green Tuscan cavalo nero or dinosaur kale, yams, mushrooms, persimmons, pomegranates. As much as I love the springtime, autumn is glorious.
I have always longed for a garden to grow vegetables in. A few fruit trees and a grassy yard with a table and chairs for lingering over meals outdoors. For a brief moment of my life I was blessed with such a house, but now I live in a small apartment with a shaded patio, so I gather produce at my local farmers’ market. This has become my weekend ritual.
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
I was born on Sunday. Perhaps this has nothing to do with how I approach life, but I like to think it does. I find myself waiting through the week for Sunday to arrive. There are farmers’ markets on other days besides Sunday, I know. I’ve been on an occasional Wednesday and quite spontaneously on a Saturday. But I reserve Sunday for that special moment. If I were in France or Italy, it would be common to shop for the day’s groceries in the open-air markets. But as many gourmet cooks that have lived in France have told me, we are lucky to have such a plentiful selection as we do here in California.
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
The week rushes by. I long to take a leisurely walk through the market with my eco-cloth bags, my shopping list in hand with written down ingredients for recipes, but sometimes I just allow the selection to inspire me instead. I’ve discovered that the produce tastes better when hand-picked from the farmers’ stalls. The connection between farm-to-table is a simple pleasure that awakens my senses. Being a sensualist, I’m someone who enjoys the pleasures of life. I take in everything with heightened awareness, as if every pore of my being comes alive with the scents, sights, and textures of the open-air market. A soulful sense of pleasure sparkles within me, walking through the stands, tables full of the vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps marketing like this is my Sunday way of revering nature and celebrating their harvest. The farmers’ market has become my temple, my place of wonder and serenity, and my inspiration. How lucky we are to have such harvest. What joy it brings.
“Enough is a feast.”
The scent of guavas, limes, and lemons tempt me. Then I am sniffing the air for the scent of yuzu at the one stand I know carries it. They also have mushrooms, persimmons and pomegranates; marvelous jewels of the season. The lemongrass stalks stick out of my cloth bag, cushioned in by the big bouquets of Thai basil I couldn’t resist. I remembered that I had a knob of fresh ginger root at home. Imagining what kind of recipes I could create, a colorful fiesta of chilies gave me an idea to make a Thai soup. Another stall displayed blueberries and blackberries. I gathered a carton of blueberries and paid for them, thanking the vendor. Blueberry pancakes, muffins, cake. What to make with these blueberries? I love them on plain yogurt with honey. Harvest baskets at the next stall display the orange plumpness of persimmons, Meyer lemons, and Fuji apples. Honey, mushrooms, and eggs. The honey is gathered and sold by the beekeepers themselves. They tell me how they keep their bees, how their honey was made. I am tempted by jars of the golden nectar gleaming in the sunlight. The mushrooms are handpicked; the eggs come from a local farm. So much plenty. My bag is heavy from the many fruits, vegetables, croissants, cheeses, and other findings. I contemplate the many things I can create with my Sunday bounty.
For me, there is no better way to shop for produce except directly from the farmers themselves. The experience of buying my produce from the farmers’ stalls gives me such happiness. Sometimes when I’m feeling blue, walking in the sun is just what I need. Delicious smells from the food vendors: fluffy omelettes, sweet and savory crepes, French toast, empanadas, tamales, kettle corn. The smiles from my children while they eat roasted corn, baked yams with butter and cinnamon, and salty-hot pomme frites.
The marvel in my youngest’s eyes waiting for her balloon to turn into an animal or flower. A little chat with a local vendor is a delight that I may never have had otherwise. It’s a connection to the earth and those that grow our food that is part of the pleasure.
When I buy produce at the supermarket under florescent lighting, it just doesn’t give me that same excitement. When the artificial thunderstorm sound comes on while the timed water spray hoses down the produce, I am amused. I think of the poem by Allen Ginsberg, A Supermarket in California, inquiring to an imaginary Walt Whitman about his ghost shopping in the neon fruit supermarket.
I hold a sweet memory of pushing my infant son in his stroller through the marketplace in uptown New Orleans. I fit the long fuzzy stalks of bright sunflowers underneath his stroller, with bags of fruits and vegetables balanced in each of my hands. With all of my groceries and my baby boy, I made it home, running through the oak-lined path of Audubon Park, just before a warm downpour of a Southern storm.
In one of my shopping bags was a jar of red pepper jelly from a local farmer. Red pepper jelly, sweet and spicy, just perfect on buttered cornbread. I developed a taste for it and had to have more. Nothing else was comparable, though I searched the supermarket shelves. That red pepper jelly, handmade in small batches by a local farmer, was what I craved. I tried it on different things, but hot from the oven buttered cornbread worked best with the jelly. It was just delightful.
I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to Sunday produce gathering and cooking. But years later and two more children to push through the market, I found myself preferring to buy my produce from the farmers’ stalls, right from their baskets and display tables. I had never grown my own produce although I’ve always wanted to. The desire was there, of course. But I’ve lived in my share of apartments and urban artists’ lofts where there isn’t any soil. Concrete and sidewalks, patios and common grounds, nowhere to dig into the dirt to plant. Dreaming of a house with a garden. To grow my own harvest.
When I read through Monet’s family cooking journals, I was more interested in what kind of edibles he grew and cooked in that glorious dream garden he painted in every day. A mushroom lover like me, he loved cèpes, forest gathered porcini mushrooms that appear in the countryside of France during the month of October. I try to remind myself that Monet lived in cramped quarters with his brood of children before he found his home in Giverny where he created his lily pond and garden. It helps me, a mother of three living in a small apartment, find hope that one day, I will have a garden of my very own. Even so, I know I would still find myself going to the farmers’ market on Sundays.
If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
In the other seasons, when the eggplants are of an exquisite violet hue, piled up next to the freshly picked green beans in all of their splendor, the fragrant leaves of basil clustered in bunches of summery bouquets, ripe heirloom tomatoes plump and round, juicy plums call out for a caress, just asking to be tasted. Intoxicated by the colors and textures, recipes are swimming in my mind. Fruits and vegetables in bushels and crates overflowing. The seduction of their potential arouses my senses. I handle the spring peas and sink my fingers into a basket full of them. I inhale their sweet fragrance and imagine my large clay pot full of pea soup. The promising green of lettuces and fragrant herbs entice me.
But the autumn harvest of the farmers’ market gives such treasures. The weather changes and soon we are making soups and baking carnival squashes with garlic, cream and butter. Kale is in its full regale of deep crisp greens, and pomegranates, like Christmas ornaments, with their bright ruby juice and arils, appeals to the eye as well as the tongue. Apples, pears, all the harvest from trees. We bake apple pies and pear tarts, we taste the crisp light of fall in a bite.
Now here we are at the end of the season, nearing the Christmas holiday. Autumn is golden like the fading amber light of sunset. Chill of December and rain. I make pots of tea and bake apple tarts, roast vegetables with garlic, shallots, dressed in olive oil and marsala, cooking to a slow caramel in the oven, for soup making or just to eat with fresh rosemary, thyme, and sea salt. We make large pot of vegetable stew, so thick and rich with zucchinis, tomatoes, squash, carrots, beans, kale, parmesan rinds, herbs and by some alchemical turn of the ladle, the munificence of the earth’s harvest is in my mouth. It’s time for grains like farro and quinoa, soups, stews, and the gentle comforts of winter. I look forward to the springtime peas and fava beans. I celebrate the cycle of seasons and all that the market gives, such plenty.