Why is it, that once we unwrap the gift of summer fruit from the local Farmers’ Market, we forget our manners? In the midst of our quest to secure just the right peach or the sweetest melon or the perfect Jersey tomato, we get pushy and demanding and on occasion, downright rude. Elbowing our way from vendor to vendor, the casualty count is highest amongst the fruit and vegetables sprawled across rickety wooden tables. My greatest fear is always for the peaches.
Peaches are gentle creatures who don’t respond well to excessive poking, squeezing, and handling. It doesn’t matter how many times you turn that peach over, Madam, there is nothing written on the underside, no secret code indicating whether or not it will bake up successfully in your newly installed Gaggenau oven.
It’s true, I’m as guilty as the rest of the lemmings, reaching out and cradling the peaches in my hands, inhaling the intoxicating perfume of summer that lies just beneath its fuzzy exterior. But I’m practical, well versed in peach etiquette from years of seeking out “soft but lovable” fruit to bake into pies. Sometimes, peaches are sleeping, requiring a few more days to ripen. When that’s the case, you can adopt the peaches and bring them home to sleep on your kitchen counter. You can also let sleeping peaches lie and move on to the blueberries. Nowhere is it written that jostling and squeezing coaxes the sweetness from the fruit. Emblazoned with the markings of freshly manicured nails, the poor peach will only be bruised beyond recognition long before the market closes. Peaches may very well grow on trees, but we can still treat them with respect.
Wouldn't a little camaraderie amongst shoppers and farmers be grand, an easy-going, sip-your-morning-coffee kind of feeling. More often than not, there’s a heightened sense of urgency in the air. I'm all for being a knowledgeable consumer, but we needn't be so pushy. The shoppers hell bent on securing their provisions while pontificating what they’re about to create ruins the experience for folks like me, who just want a few ears of corn and a quart of peaches.
As Blondilocks reminds me in my everyday life, ‘we can do better.’ This includes Farmers’ Market behavior and the ability to mingle well with others. Farming is probably one of the hardest ways to make a living; we often lose sight of that as we elbow our way from stand to stand. No matter how many people you have invited for dinner, it doesn't hurt to be courteous and respectful. This courtesy should not be limited to farmers, it extends to other shoppers and the perishables set before you.
It’s also a fine idea to do your homework, or as Irma and Marion Rombauer like to say in The Joy of Cooking, Know Your Ingredients. Sure, there’s something wonderfully casual about ambling through the market, inspired by the myriad of just-picked options. But take a page from the Ladies Rombauer (or the cookbook author of your choice) and know what you need and how much you need. If you know in advance that you are going to bake a pie for your weekend guests, take a glance at your pie plate before you leave the house. It’s also important to figure out just how many blueberries or peaches you’ll need to fill that over-sized, 9½”deep ruffled Emile Henry pie plate that you’ve never used before. Please don’t wait until you are standing in line in front of me, your arms full of berries and peaches, to calculate. As you jockey back and forth between the register and the fruit, debating how much more or less the recipe (which you’ve never made) calls for, I’m still waiting. My advice would be to buy more than you think you need; those pie plates are cavernous. And since we’re standing in line together, your blueberries bouncing out of your basket onto my white sneakers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a little advice. The pie plate you’re about to fill is really deep and since you strike me as a Pinterest kind of gal, if you’re hoping to embellish your double crust pie, you might want to make a little extra pate brisée.
Farmers’ Market-ing can be taxing, which is why it’s a good idea to seek out the coffee roaster standing by for all of your caffeination needs. I’ve also learned from Master/Master and Sweet Soprano, that tucked away amidst the seasonal produce occasionally stands a vendor offering local brews and fine spirits. At 9 am on a weekend morning, that might seem out of line. Then again, it all depends on who happens to be standing in front of you as you wait in line, juggling a few ears of corn and a quart of sweet Jersey peaches.