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Carrie Havranek


Summer Harvest: Thinking Like M.F.K. Fisher


buttermilk stone fruit cake
buttermilk stone fruit cake

I described the dinner I was making tonight for friends as a "summer hodgepodge." And indeed, it's true. I'm looking at cucumbers from our community garden, tossed with a bit of white wine vinegar and dressed simply with salt and pepper, along with some chopped burnet and a bit of dill; a smidge goes a long way. (I've fallen in love with dill after long eschewing it; most people overdo dill and a gentle hand really changes the whole flavor profile.) I'm looking at some excellent sausage from Giacomo's down the street, a broccoli gribiche courtesy of Heidi Swanson (this woman can do no wrong) and homemade black bean veggie burgers a la Mark Bittman. (The recipe appears in How to Cook Everything in a slightly different iteration; I'm doing an adaptation of both). Market cilantro, broccoli, potatoes, dill, and then some will fill our bellies. We'll finish it up with my first peach crumb pie of the season, with the very last of the super ripe peaches I got from Frecon Farms last Saturday at the market. They sold me an enormous box of seconds--I want to say it was half a bushel--for $15. Some of them were hit by hail. Most of them were better than fine.

The moral of the story: When you have a fridge full of fresh produce, and a finite number of days before it goes bad, you must re-think your whole approach to cooking. The menu planning starts AFTER you return from the farmers market. I rarely bring a list. Our CSA covers the bulk of it, but I also pick up whatever looks lovely, in addition to staples such as eggs and goat cheese and such. It's not easy to do this—it takes some re-engineering of one's mindset. You must—and should—respond on a whim to the beautiful things you see in the market, even if you're not sure about what you'll do with it when you get it home if you're not eating it raw. You must trust that you will be able to do something worthy with the produce. This week I bought a trio of beans from Salvaterra's Gardens, which included purple, yellow wax beans, and something called dragon tongue beans. I envisioned a bean salad of some sort, doused with a bit of olive oil. I know that people are changing and that dynamics of farmers market shopping is changing because I overheard two middle-aged women asking about yellow tomatoes (what do they taste like? Is this ripe? Are you sure?) at Beechwood's stall, and another woman in line in front of me who was looking at the string bean array at Salvaterra's and saying "I don't know about those purple ones," and I said, "when you steam them they turn back green, and they taste about the same." And she said, "My husband does not like to try new things." So sad! Think of the hues, the nuances, the differences of taste that you miss when you don't open your mind to what's available from Mother Nature's bounty. It's a small tragedy, but for every woman who buys those things (or man) and then cooks them simply for the skeptics and the converted, let's hope it results in a slightly opened mind. I'll call it a small victory for the food wars. These encounters are so humbling, because it means people are curious and want to know. They remind me that not everyone knows what I know (or what my friends know), and this reminds me that there's important work to be done. It means that the market is now serving more than just the converted. The fact that they're at the market at all is a coup for the farmers and the community they serve. If they grow food and no one eats it, that's a bigger tragedy.

This is what I miss in the middle of winter, no matter how frantic sometimes things get around the house when we get back from the market, scrambling to figure out where to put everything and what needs to get rotated up from the basement fridge (or rotated down), with the boys tugging at me (or hitting each other with trains) or the oven beeper going or something happening. On a good week I can take inventory Friday night; it's a good week when the veggie drawer is empty Saturday morning, ready to receive more goodies. It's liberating because it means you're eating the way your ancestors ate, you're eating the way you should be eating, and you're eating a way that makes you feel better, sleep better, play better and work better. No preservatives, no fillers, no strange ingredients. Unadulturated food.