20 November 2008

The Farmer’s Market (An Interlude)

Speaking of the farmer’s market, I want to take a moment to share a story that indicates why I love it so much. I won’t name names, as it's better you meet the farmers on your own- just keep in mind that I’ve worked with many of them, and see the rest every week at the market.

This past Saturday I had it in my mind to make chili- the temperature is finally right where nothing is so satisfying as a hearty bowl of chili. I was dreading breaking into my cans of tomatoes, as I only can a small number every summer (small kitchen) and hoarde them throughout the winter, but I won’t abide the suggestion of making chili with store bought tomatoes. So imagine my surprise when I came across a crate of late tomatoes at the market- beautiful, plump red tomatoes, fresh as can be. I quickly loaded up my arms with as many as I could carry and made for the “counter”- the table set up for taking money. I laughed with the proprietor over the number of tomatoes I set down, explaining my chili dilemma, at which news she immediately disappeared to find me a few unusual peppers to go with the tomatoes. She gave me one of the purple ones, a pepper the color of eggplant on the outside but green inside, with a tart, sharper taste than a regular bell, and told me it was on the house- I needed a little color in my chili. She also regularly pushes the more unusual squashes into my arms as I stock up on my usual butternut and acorn, telling me just to try it, and waving away my attempts to pay for the additional bounty. She knows if I like it I will be back to buy in quantity.

The other vendors are just as giving- if you are doubtful as to which variety of apple you like best, most likely they will hand you one of each and make you try while they stand and watch, anxious to see your reaction. Each farmer grows something a little different, something you may not have tried before- whether it’s a variety of pear or a purple tomato, or cobs of corn meant for popping- and they are all happy to explain the best way to eat it, and usually happy to let you give it a try as a “bonus” with your regular veggies.

Therefore I always walk away from the farmer’s market with a bag stuffed with more than I can eat in a week, usually for under $10, and a huge, grateful smile on my face. Nothing beats the feeling of being a part of a community, of talking to the people I know as I browse, of sharing recipes and stories with the farmers as I fill up my bag, of petting dogs and smiling at wide eyed little kids, mouths stained with blackberry juice or covered in crumbs from an apple tart- unless it is the looks on my friend’s faces when they sit back after a meal, glass of local wine in hand, laughing over a shared joke.

Here’s my chili recipe, if you’re curious. Everything came from the farmer’s market except the beans, though if anyone starts growing them I guarantee I will switch in a heartbeat. The sugar is raw, from the Natural Food store.

3-4 medium cloves garlic
1 onion (I prefer yellow)
8-ish pounds of tomatoes, skinned*
2-3 carrots
1 cup vegetable broth or water and bouillon
1 can each black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, drained
2-3 bell peppers
optional: other veggies, such as celery, green beans (cut small) or eggplant
hot peppers, to taste
spices: cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander, salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp sugar
½ can tomato paste

In a large pot, sauté the garlic and onion in a little oil, until translucent. Add the tomatoes, carrots, broth and spices, simmer 10 or so minutes. Add the beans and additional veggies, simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed (but not all), and the veggies are tender. This is a matter of personal preference more than anything. Finally, add the hot peppers, sugar, and tomato paste, and simmer an additional 5 minutes, covered. Serve with bread and topped with cheese (I recommend Eve’s Cheese jalapeño Colby, also from the Natural Food store, and local). Depending on the quantity of tomatoes, can feed up to 6-8 people.

*If you’ve never skinned a tomato, the process is simple (and I find, very enjoyable and stress relieving). Core the tomatoes (cut out the hard bit where the stem was). Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and turn down to about medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes for about three minutes each. Transfer to a strainer (a slotted spoon helps) and let cool for several minutes. The skins should slide right off, and you can squeeze them a little (be careful not to squirt yourself in the eye) to get out the majority of the water and seeds, before mushing them and adding them to the chili, or sauce, or what have you. If done over a bowl, this leaves behind a delicious juice you can strain and drink, or pour over your garden (its full of nutrients- but also acidic, so use sparingly).

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