Market Appeal

Do you know who is growing your tomatoes?

| January / February 2006

Tomato season. Boxes of ripe fruit line the farmers' market corridor. The teenager working the stall knows I am easily swayed; last week she sold me extra onions. 'Six bucks?' she offers. I pull crumpled bills from my wallet and pick up the crate. What I will do with that many organic tomatoes never crosses my mind.

It's not the first time I've brought home a surprise from the tiny market. At a local market, seasons demand flexibility; I shop without an agenda and buy whatever is abundant. This food-first, recipe-second approach feels chaotic at times, but being a market softy has perks: Andy, my man from the orchard, always saves a caramel apple for me, even after he has hung up his 'Sold Out' sign.

Genuine organic farming is environmentally sound and delivers top-notch flavor. Buying locally at the market is even better: It puts fresher food on plates and profit directly in farmers' pockets. But for me, nothing trumps knowing those farmers: Andy's smile, or a wave from the woman who has sold me sweet corn for seven years.

Familiar faces make being a market regular worthwhile, even when market-fresh cooking veers from delicious to daunting. Consider the army of tomatoes lined up in my kitchen. I'm still not sure what to do with them. Market variety requires an inquisitive palate, but the surprise of carrots grated into buckwheat pancakes, or a risotto loaded with apples, more than compensates for imperfect ventures.

In the case of these tomatoes, I settle on soup with only a hint of cream. My stomach rumbles while it simmers. I wait. There aren't shortcuts for this kind of cooking. Browsing markets, building relationships, and learning to accommodate the seasonal parade all take time. But the pleasure of eating is worth the investment.