7.12.2011

Millions of peaches, peaches for me: A trip to the Farmer's Market.

Today I finally had the pleasure of visiting the Tulane Square location of the Crescent City Farmer's Market. There I found visitors from all walks of life, perusing a gorgeous array of the freshest local fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Summer, of course, is a wonderful time for produce. A rainbow of edibles bursts forth from the vine, bush, and tree alike, just begging for inclusion on your plate. I've been terribly negligent this year in including seasonal produce in my meals, and it seemed to me that the Farmer's Market could be the perfect cure.

And indeed it was! I wasn't sure what to expect - most of my experience with these markets came in NYC, where they ran the gamut from the unbearably jam-packed Saturday mornings at the enormous Union Square spread, to slim pickings at a handful of tables on weekdays at Tompkins Square Park. What I found this morning at Tulane Square at the river end of Broadway struck me as the perfect happy medium: manageable crowds, plenty of produce to go around with a hearty sprinkling of prepared foods mixed in, and enough delightful sights and smells to intrigue young and old.

My first stop was at the Market's welcome tent, where I handed over my credit/debit card and for a mere $1 fee (and a voluntary $1 donation to the mother organization) I got back a stack of tokens that work like cash at the vendor stalls. You can, of course, just pay cash as well. But wooden coins are so much more fun! Thus armed, I was ready to explore.

The first thing I noticed was that tomatoes featured prominently at nearly every booth. And for good reason! Tomatoes are wonderful this time of year, and Louisiana excels at producing many varieties. Many summer goodies were on display: eggplant, squashes, stone fruits, leafy greens, and beautiful flowers among them. As you'll notice, I could barely stop myself from taking pictures of everything I saw. There was so much to choose from that it was almost impossible to pick!










But pick I did. I made a complete lap to get a feel for what was available before making any purchases - I'm far too prone to spontaneous purchases to let myself buy without scoping out the lay of the land first. Even so, the choices were almost overwhelming. The farmers do give a bounty of information on their products though, and the Market provides these helpful maps which show where your food is coming from.

My first produce purchases were (eventually) made from Oakland Organic Farm, who seem to have a sense of humor about their organic status. From them I purchased a bit of the most aromatic basil I've ever encountered, as well as three lovely rose-colored heirloom tomatoes. (I heard somewhere that tomato and basil go well together. Anyone know about that?)

This farm had a number of other lovely vegetables and fruits, including this picturesque okra, roma tomatoes, FIGS, mustard greens, and squash. I love me some okra, but I've never known quite what to do with it raw... other than pickle it. I should probably find out.

Next, I was drawn in by a heavenly scent. A farm from Alabama was also selling plums, tomatoes, and nectarines, but the fruit that created the only line at the market was their PEACHES! This is the peak season for those sweet golden-fleshed gems, and these were the best of the best. I can practically smell mine from the kitchen. It's possible that I may have eaten one before even driving home? I'll never tell.

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a fruit whore. It's not surprising - I do way more baking than cooking, because if I'm going to spend that much time in the kitchen I damn well better be coming out of there with cupcakes. The sugar... it calls to me. And with the fruit I think it's the colors as well. Just show me a blue vegetable? So you'll shake your head and say "it figures" when I tell you that the next thing I bought was a POUND of blueberries... for $4! Maybe I just don't know much about the pricing of blueberries, but this stuck me as quite a deal.

Of course I tasted them the minute I got home. PERFECTION. Extra fun: these beauties come from a u-pick farm, specifically Toft Farms in Carriere, Mississippi. The harvest is nearly over, but they told me it would still be worthwhile to stop by this weekend. Field trip anyone?

I thought I was done for the day when I noticed that the hydroponic lettuce man also had dandelion greens. Now, I know that some people eat these. While I myself am not a huge fan, my two rabbits simply can't get enough! Yes, I do spoil my darlings so - but they deserve it.

Now, I mentioned my first produce buy above. But what was my first actual purchase? Well. I tried to resist all of the amazing prepared foods, a surprising number of which were vegan. But when Paul's Palate proceeded to ploy me with his pesto, I was helpless to resist. The delightful mix of lemon and herbs will make a gourmet dinner out of some quinoa pasta tonight. You'll have to climb into my belly if you want to see the small serving of Paul's lentil salad that I purchased; it was the lunch that is now powering me through this mega-post.

On the whole, I can't imagine a more pleasant way to have spent my morning. The event holds a feeling of community as parents show their children what real food looks like, and families come face to face with the farmers who grow it for them. I couldn't be happier with my haul for the day, which includes:
*three heirloom tomatoes
*two bunches of basil
*six huge ripe peaches
*a pound of blueberries
*four bunches of dandelion greens
*a lunch-size portion of lentil salad
*enough pesto for a pound of pasta
*a refreshing cup of iced tea, in a reusable cup!
...all for about $30. To get the freshest and most healthy produce around while simultaneously supporting local growers, and know that none of it was flown in from another continent? A small price to pay, in my opinion. See you next Tuesday at the Market! ;)

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