Shining a klieg light on local markets and their role in bringing farmers, consumers, and communities together, the celebration at our humble market was modest. I was hoping for a slice of cake and a party hat, but no such luck. Save for the whining child wrapped around her mother’s leg, there was nary a noisemaker in sight. The only baked goods in the offing were a row of cello wrapped fruit pies, their top crusts slumping in the ghastly heat. It appeared the best way to snag a goody bag was to fill your own canvas tote and approach the register, so I inched my way to the table weighted down with baskets of stone fruit.
One of the farm market employees, looking more lifeguard than farmer, was trying to prevent the nectarines from colliding with the peaches. The peaches, not yet ripe and unruly, had escaped unscathed. Sadly, the nectarines had taken the brunt of the melee, their crimson and yellow skins split, in need of those small, circular Band-aids no one ever uses. Lifeguard/Farmer shook his head, gathering up the second-class stone fruit, whisking it away into a basket beneath the table.
“What happens to those?” I asked Lifeguard/Farmer, who had moved on to refill the hipster donut peaches, one aisle over. For a moment, his dazzling white smile dimmed. “Are you selling those?” I asked, feeling a sense of loyalty to the less-than-perfect stone fruit that just moments before had been hanging around with the cool kids of summer.
“Maybe someone will want them,” he replied, shaking his sun-streaked tresses.
I was that someone.
Approaching the register, it appeared my Lifeguard/Farmer had sent a message to the man standing before the commercial scale. Equally suntanned with pearly white teeth and a P90X physique, he whispered, “Half price for the nectarines.” Nonchalantly digging through my wallet in search of exact change, I expressed my thanks. “They’ll have a good home,” I promised, gathering up my bounty.
My car was as hot as a pre-heated Lodge cast iron skillet. Placing the bag of fruit in the passenger seat, the combination of heat plus ripe nectarines perfumed the car with the unmistakable fragrance of stone fruit in summer. If only we could bottle this and reach for it in the bitter cold of January; sweet with just a hint of almond and rose, followed by the slightest background note of New Jersey humidity.