Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Harvest Time in Minnesota

auntieruth has been writing about his weekly trips to the farmer's market, with particular emphasis on how much wonderful food is available for how little money. The other day he pointed out that this means the Minnesota Harvest is here, which is a period of about six minutes some time in late August or early September.

I, too, have been seeing through my intention to go to the Farmer's Market regularly. I now go to a small local market only a mile or two up Lake Street, with relatively few growers but all of them are local. It's become my ritual on free Saturday mornings.

On the way to the market I stop at Ingebretsen's for their signature fresh-smoked salmon; it's right along the way and at that time of day I can park directly outside the door. My friend Jim introduced me to this wonderful item, pointing out that it's delicious but doesn't last long. What I've found is that for this fish the smoking is more a way of cooking than of preserving, so the fish lasts no longer than a regular piece of cooked salmon. It starts to dry out after a day or so. So I buy half a pound, and I make a dressing of sour cream, horseradish, fresh lemon, and pepper and I spend all Saturday eating it and Sunday too if there's any left over. I put it on slices of the hearty fresh bread I buy from the one small baker at the market.

At the market first thing I get breakfast at the crepe stand for $3.50. They have a limited menu (it's two woman cooking over small camp stoves). I get ham and gruyere, or leek and mushroom.

At this time of year, during this brief whiff of ripeness, each of the stalls looks as if a food stylist has come through. There are trays of wonder, of color, of bounty. There are sprays of fresh herbs for a dollar. Last week there were overwhelming quantities of tomatoes of different sizes and colors; apparently it's been a good year for tomatoes. The small yellow ones are like candy, just plain with no salt or anything else. There were huge baskets of Roma tomatoes for $8. Large gleaming eggplants for $1, medium-sized for 50 cents. There were potatoes and sweet onions and garlic and shallots, for a fraction of the cost of those items in the supermarket. This week there were some great apples, which I don't think of as being particularly difficult to find but these were unusual varieties and just picked.

This is all boring and banal stuff for people who go to farmer's markets themselves, but it still amazes me every week.

Three weeks ago a man had small baskets of plums for what seemed like a lot of money, but I bought some anyway. Plums grown in Minnesota? I hadn't known. They were small and red. As I got into my car I started to eat one, and after one bite I put down my bag and marched right back to the stall and bought another bunch. This was the standard foodie epiphany. Oh, this is what plums taste like. I kept accidentally getting plum juice on my shirt, all day, as I couldn't resist returning to the fruit bowl for more. These plums would definitely not ship. You could have cut them up and baked them simply in a pie shell and made a glorious fruit tart with maybe some lemon and sugar, but fresh they were a joy. I went back this week to see if the farmer had any more, and he said no, it's a very short season. What, one week?

Last week I bought eggplant and onion and garlic and tomato to make a sort of mushroom baba ganoosh I'm fond of (which requires a few ingredients they don't grow in Minnesota, like lemon and olive oil and mushrooms). You'd think it wouldn't make any difference with those particular vegetables, to cook them the day you buy them, but it does. The onions are sweet and the slow-roasted garlic is rich and the fresh eggplant is full flavored. Things just taste more intensely of themselves. I put a couple of tablespoons of Courvoisier in the mushroom-eggplant spread; it was a successful addition.

I buy eggs from one of the farmers, even though I rarely use up an entire dozen before I start to question whether they are still any good. But if I buy them on Saturday and cook them on Sunday (scrambled with parsley and scallions also purchased on Saturday, and then maybe sprinkled with cheese and cooked in a tortilla) they are yellow and bright and fresh tasting such as you don't know eggs can be. This man's eggs are not cheap, but I don't care. For a few weeks a year I can be profligate with my eggs.

On the side, with the Sunday eggs, I have oven-baked rosemary potatoes and yes, if I use potatoes purchased just the day before it makes a difference. So for the few weeks of harvest season I violate protocol and cook the most-recently (rather than least-recently) purchased potatoes.

I'm still not organized about any of this. I need to schedule dinner parties for summer Saturday nights, and cook what I bought that morning. I need to buy the right quantities for my own use, and spread things out over the week (rather than eating like a king on Saturday and Sunday). I need to arrange my summers so that I'm doing more than shopping on impulse. I definitely buy more than I use, most weeks.

But this year I absolutely am taking advantage of the seasonal cycle.
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