I love going to market. Around here, “market” means a weekly gathering of farmers and butchers, bakers and cooks, selling what they themselves grow, harvest, or prepare. In south-central Pennsylvania, we’ve been eating local and doing farm to table long before it was trendy.
I grew up a half block away from our town’s farmer’s market. Every Friday, my mother and I would walk up the alley, each carrying our own basket, to a beautiful old building which in those days, was packed with vendors. We’d often come home with a “market house supper” — maybe a broasted chicken, with a side of homemade macaroni salad or in the summer, fresh corn on the cob and sweet sliced tomatoes grown in the sandy soil of the nearby Susquehanna River. (Yes, corn on the cob can be an entrée, as can strawberry shortcake in early June!) If you wanted fresh meats and cheeses for sandwiches, you got them “on market” since the grocery stores in those days only had plastic-packaged Oscar Mayer. My mother knew the names of all the stand-holders, and market was a hub of information, gossip, and community.
Not much has changed, although sadly, my hometown market is no longer in business. I still enjoy shopping where I can talk to the person who produced the food, where there are rarely cash registers or UPC code scanners. Fruits and vegetables come from nearby orchards and fields so there are no stickers to be scanned. Your purchases are totaled on a scrap of paper, and only in recent years have some vendors started accepting credit cards.
I like knowing that my food dollars are going back into the local economy instead of into the pockets of some giant conglomerate. Few items are encased in plastic or any kind of packaging. You can buy 1 tomato or a bushel if you want. The people behind the counter can tell you the best way to cook their spare ribs or which fish just arrived from Baltimore that morning.
Market is not as convenient as the grocery store. There are no carts. You must bring your own bags or basket. It tends to be crowded and you have to jostle yourself around strollers and people stopping to chat in the middle of the aisle. You come out of market smelling like it – sort of an odd combination of celery and smoked meat and whatever the little café happens to be frying that day. But even that makes you feel as though you’ve been around real food, rather than the sterile, artificially clean atmosphere of the grocery store.
I find myself going to the same vendors for the same things. There is no comparison between the lunchmeat and bacon I buy at my favorite deli stand on market with that found in the grocery store. Whole wheat potato rolls dusted with flour. Homemade sweet pickles. A small lemon sponge pie or an apple dumpling for my husband. (Ok, I’ll admit, I’ll have a slice of the pie, too.) Beautiful sweet lettuces and produce grown from an organic farm that supplies many of the area’s most upscale restaurants. Yesterday, I chose a cucumber there and the lady at the stand said, “Oh, that one’s a little soft at the end. Let me find you a better one.” When’s the last time you heard that in a grocery store?
In our digital world, it still feels good to see the food we plan to consume up close and personal and know that it hasn’t been sitting in a warehouse for a week. It feels good to dig for cash and interact with the person we hand it to. To order our holiday turkey or Easter ham from a human being instead of a computer. To know that juicy strawberry we’re biting into was picked the evening before. To see the next generation take over the same stand from their parents and grandparents.
We’re having market house supper tonight. Grilled sirloin burgers, probably the last roasted butternut squash of the season, coleslaw better than I can make myself. Possibly a sliver of lemon sponge pie for dessert. No Blue Apron or Black Tie or whatever they call it box of pre-fab, pre-measured, miso-glazed salmon on a bed of quinoa delivered to my doorstep can touch that meal.
See you on market.