July offers a baker an infinite number of possibilities; it also reignites my respect and appreciation for farmers. Those who toil in fields afford us the luxury of filling our oversized eco canvas tote bags with seasonal bounty. Handfuls of verdant herbs, corrugated quarts of sweet berries, creaky wicker baskets of sun blushed peaches don’t just happen. It takes time, coaxing, and a strong back for anything to travel from field to table.
Several members of the team surrounding our baker’s bench are avid, talented gardeners. To say these women boast a green thumb is an understatement; Speedy Icer supplies most of our Village with jewel-like raspberries, Lori shares armfuls of salad greens and Ann bakes pie with rhubarb from her garden. An impressive group, to be sure.
Recent travels have afforded me the chance to pause at vastly different farmer’s markets. One was expansive yet humble, the other kombucha hip, offering uber organic produce. Armed with slender stalks of rhubarb, sweet cherries, and a new bottle of cherry bitters, I had the goods; all I needed was time.
Bitters are traditionally relegated to cocktails, but in the past few years have found their way into pie fillings. I’m all for it- unlike extracts, they add a little edge, neither sweet nor alcoholic. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in adding a dash to whatever it is you’re sipping over ice while you’re making a pie. Incidentally, barkeeps will tell you that a dash of bitters is determined by the cocktail, but I’ve been taught that it translates anywhere between ⅙ and ⅛ of a teaspoon. Unless your kitchen boasts a measuring spoon specifically relegated to a dash, opt for ⅛ teaspoon. It’s like salt; you can always add more but you can’t undo the damage of adding too much.
This weekend many folks are beach bound and pies will exit the bakery without so much as a fare thee well. I’ve overheard the already tan retail crowd waxing poetic about stopping at farm stands on their way to the beach or the Hudson Valley.
The idea of summer produce lounging atop gingham draped tables in country settings is terribly romantic. For a baker wielding a paring knife in a commercial kitchen on a holiday weekend, less so. Receiving shipments of fresh produce from a wholesale vendor is totally romance free. Cases of peaches and flats of berries may sound charming but are unwieldly. Plastic clamshells of blueberries, organic or non, are notorious for refusing to open. When they do open, it’s more of an explosion, sending blueberries scattering beneath the deep recesses of commercial refrigeration grates. Peaches are notorious for their ‘hurry up and wait’ challenge- underripe fruit requires patience, overripe fruit makes for disastrous transport and sends up a flare to fruit flies within a twenty five mile radius. Romantic? Hardly.
As you enjoy your 4th of July eats, raise a glass to the folks toiling in the sun drenched fields, plucking local berries and hauling wooden crates of peaches. When you balk in disbelief at the price of summer produce (guilty) remember to thank your lucky stars that at long last, July. Happy 4th.