Have You Hugged Your Farmers Market This Week?

Elio Duarte of Millbrook Farm holds up an eggplant

In case you didn’t know, August 22- 28, 2010 is Massachusetts Farmers Market week, as proclaimed by Governor Deval Patrick.  Despite the pouring rain that drenched Massachusetts during the first half of the week, the Farmers Markets were open for business, and intrepid farmers and shoppers were smiling and swapping recipes, as usual.

Logo for Loving Local blogathon, designed by Leon Peters

In honor of Mass Farmers Market Week, the In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens blog has been hosting a farm-fresh blogathon, called Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts, with a little help from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Mass Farmers Markets.  If you are loving especially locally this week, please consider donating to Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps the markets thrive. And check out the cool posts from the blogathon for some mouth-watering recipes.

I celebrated Mass Farmers Market Week doing what I’ve been doing throughout this glorious summer—shopping at and cooking and eating food from farmers markets.  But the great thing about farmers markets is that, as the season progresses, there’s always something new to taste or do there.

Artis Cooper buys red roses from Fanci Nanci to brighten a gloomy day

This week, I picked up my first shipment from the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Supported Fishery—two pounds of filleted, fresh haddock that Michelle immediately baked and we served with mashed baby tomatoes, steamed corn, and a tomato and cucumber salad dressed with avocado oil and balsamic vinegar—all veggies from the market, of course.

Since my spouse is not a vegetarian, fish is one of the few commonly-available food that we can enjoy together at home or in restaurants.  As the Cape Ann folks say, “Your participation in the CAFC CSF not only helps our local economy prosper, it delivers to your table the freshest locally-caught, sustainable, seafood available.” For more info about CSFs, read this great article from The Wall Street Journal.

Laurie Herboldsheimer of Golden Rule Honey offers a sample

I also tried a new taste treat this week: The Queen of Chocolate – Spicy Chocolate Mix from Golden Rule Honey. It’s a honey-sweetened, powdery blend of rich, natural high fat cocoa, Golden Rule’s treatment-free Arizona Rangeland Honey, and Turkish Aleppo pepper). Although the combination sounds weird, it delivers a solid hit of chocolate with a spicy kick that satisfies my chocolate cravings. I’ve been enjoying it sprinkled on Blue Frog Bakery’s Seven-Grain Bread with Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter

Golden Rule Honey co-owners Laurie Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, sell honey and chocolate at the Community Servings Farmers Market and 6 other markets each week. Unlike most beekeepers, “We don’t medicate our bees or feed them sugar or high-fructose corn syrup,” Herboldsheimer told me.

Every week is Massachusetts Farmers Market Week at my house.

A Tasty Bite of the Big Apple

Farmers Market at City Hall

Farmers Market at City Hall

Michelle and I just got back from six delicious days in New York City.

Although we had some great meals—more on that below—I was actually more excited about the amazing produce we spotted in all parts of the city. From Rockefeller Center and City Hall Park to the famed Union Square Greenmarket, we were never far from a farmers market.

Longan fruit are sold on the street in New York's Chinatown

In Chinatown, where we stayed, the stores and street carts were loaded with mysterious green vegetables, tropical fruits, and bargain seafood (sea scallops for $5.99) that rivaled any of the farmers markets for freshness, color and variety.  Bunches of longan—a sweet, pulpy tropical fruit that I’ve eaten in Asia and Puerto Rico—were going for $3-$4 a pound. 

Chinese mystery vegetable

But I didn’t recognize the thin, two-foot long, tubular vegetable that appeared to be some type of string bean, or the bright pink, spiky ovals that we eventually learned were dragon fruit.  “If only we had a kitchen to cook in,” I moaned to Michelle.

On our way down to the city, I picked up a copy of New York Magazine, which conducted a fascinating taste-test of heirloom tomatoes. After reading the article, I couldn’t resist buying a Paul Robeson tomato (which placed #4) at Keith’s Farm Stand in Union Square Greenmarket.

I proudly show off my Paul Robeson tomato

Named after the famed black singer and social activist (who knew Paul Robeson had been honored with a tomato?), this beauty has a lovely purplish skin and deep red flesh.  Sadly, by the time we got our specimen home, the skin had split and we had to throw some of it away. Even in its battered condition, it had a robust, earthy flavor that would have been lovely with fresh basil and some good olive oil.

Speaking of good oil, just down the road from our Chinatown hotel, we found a great Chilean store, Puro Chile, that sells food, wine and handicrafts.  We picked up a bottle of avocado oil for only $4.25–delicious with all those heirloom tomatoes–and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Carmenere for our room.

At our New York friend Dana’s suggestion, we had a lovely dinner at Jane Restaurant in Soho, including a garden fresh gazpacho and a yummy seared Ahi Tuna with caramelized cauliflower, shitake mushrooms, baby spinach, and lemon-chive butter. Jane serves nice food in a comfortable, relaxed setting that made me feel right at home.

After a lovely twilight boat tour around Manhattan, we hurried across town for a late dinner at Chinese Mirch, a Chinese-Indian restaurant in Murray “Curry” Hill suggested by my sister Louise. Chinese Mirch is a small restaurant and very popular, so we had to wait for a table, even at 10 pm.  Although neither Michelle nor I are big on okra, we ordered the fried okra that one reviewer raved about, and we were not disappointed.  Lightly battered and flash fried, the okra had a light crunch and a bright flavor that made us fight for the last piece. I wish they’d made our salt and pepper calamari the same way, because it was coated in a much heavier batter and was too greasy. Our other dishes also failed to hit the mark.

Michelle in Little Italy

On our last night, we wanted to stay in our neighborhood. Since Little Italy was only two blocks from our hotel, we strolled down to Mulberry Street, which is lined with dozens of traditional Italian restaurants and is only open to pedestrians at night. We sat at an outdoor table as twilight fell, watching hundreds of couples, friends and families passing by, taking equal enjoyment in the beautiful summer night. While my tri-colore—romaine, endive, and red lettuce—salad and eggplant penne were, shall I say, rather pedestrian, the setting, the evening, and the company were so romantic that I barely paid attention to the food.

New York is a great place for a pescovegetarian. I’m already looking forward to our next trip.

Wanna Buy 50,000 Pounds of Local Tomatoes?

A local tomato from City Growers

It sounds like a joke: How do you unload 50,000 pounds of ripe heirloom tomatoes?

Very carefully.

For City Growers, a start-up based in Roxbury, Mass. , this challenge is just another “growing pain.”

In 2010, its first year of operation, City Growers has taken over 2.5 acres of vacant land in Roxbury and Dorchester and is growing local food in raised beds of composed-enriched, clean soil. In addition to crops like lettuce, basil, eggplant, they’re growing 50,000 pounds of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes with alluring names like jet star, mountain fresh, cosmonaut volkov, mountain spring and polbig. I’ve tasted these tomatoes, and they’re luscious.

As problems go, a tomato surplus is a good one to have.  Fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes go for $4 a pound or more at most farmers’ markets in the Boston area, so if the company just wanted to sell them at cost, they’d sell like, well, hot tomatoes.

City Growers cofounder Margaret Connors

But City Growers, founded by veteran local food and community activists Glynn Lloyd, Margaret Connors, and Bruce Fulford, wants to sell as many tomatoes at the market rate as possible, so they can use the proceeds to help them increase local agricultural production capacity, make affordable, healthy foods more accessible, and create green,  living wage jobs.

“We’re wholesaling our tomatoes to restaurants and stores like City Feed,” co-founder Connors told me.  “We also have a CSA, so some of our tomatoes are going out in the boxes each week. But we need some other ways to sell them between now and the end of October.”

One of their “canny” strategies is to sell 20 lb. boxes of tomatoes for canning or freezing sauce.  For $50, you’ll get a box of just picked heirloom and hybrid varieties (enough to make 7 quarts of sauce), a canning “how to” and two tomato sauce recipes.

They’re looking for institutions like churches and temples to agree to serve as distribution points.  To encourage any wannabe canners out there, they’ll be running canning workshops at the JP Forum and City Fresh Foods next month.

But with 50,000 pounds of tomatoes to unload, City Growers is going to need help from a lot of institutions and individuals.  If you have any ideas or just want to buy some tomatoes, contact City Growers at 617-307-6400 or email them at info@citygrowers.net.