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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Farmers' Market

I became a convert to farmers' markets pretty much by accident. I happened to be working downtown at the time, a few years ago, when during my lunch break I saw that there were a bunch of canopies across the street. This was the Prudential Plaza farmers' market, and it took about 20 minutes of wandering through it to get me hooked. I was surprised that the market had everything you could imagine, not just produce, but also cheese, jellies and preserves, salsas, and more.

The Andersonville Farmers' Market is fairly new; this is only its third season. But ever since it started this is where I get most of my produce during the warm months. I love how convenient it is — there are some other markets relatively nearby but they are of the 7am to 2pm variety, and as Michael can attest, I am so not a morning person. Even when working downtown, I could still hit the market after work on my way home. There's an amazing variety of vendors, everything from ice cream to jewelry. Mostly, though, I stick to produce.

I love fresh produce and I love the idea that it's so fresh that it was in the ground 12 hours ago. I sometimes get stuck in a rut and can be pretty lazy about eating enough vegetables, so getting what's in season at the market is a way to remind myself to incorporate more of it into my meals. I went through chemotherapy about five years ago, during which time I was forbidden to eat raw produce of any kind; chemo attacks any fast growing cell, including white blood cells, so bugs that my immune system would normally shrug and yawn at were now something that could potentially land me in the hospital. By the second month I was scouring the internet for a recipe, any recipe to cook bananas that didn't involve setting things on fire. And I still had four months to go! I was going crazy for a salad, and in fact the first thing I did after my doctors cleared me was to go out to eat the biggest raw, cold salad I could find.

I don't take raw produce for granted anymore.

The best part about a farmers' market? If you're not an awesome chef-level cook, as I am not, you can always ask the vendor "what could I do with this" and get a good answer. I get some of my best food ideas that way.

The Man in Charge
We've already mentioned Hillside Orchards. They are who we got our apples and blackberry preserves from. Depending on what's in season, we have also gotten peaches, plums, cherries, berries of all kinds, plus jars of barbecue sauce (apple barbecue, yum!) and all sorts of fruit preserves. Oh, and honey!

So if ever I have a question about the difference between this kind of peach and that kind of peach, or if this variety of apple would be better for cooking or for eating, all I have to do is ask. They know what they sell, they've been doing it their entire lives. They're invested in giving their customers a good experience; all of the fresh fruit is available to sample.

We chat a bit while I'm there. They all know me by face, if not by name. They answer my questions, are patient with me while I dither (I'd buy the entire market if I could, so making choices sometimes takes a while), and always tell me "see you next week!" The vendors and their regular customers form a true community, which you can be a part of if you take your time and get to know them. And I love their fruit.

I really want an apple now.