We’re a few weeks into our farmers’ market season here in the Berkshires. We’re in a new location this year, which is a huge deal because the market had packed into the parking lot of the old train station behind town hall for almost 3 decades. This year, we’re at the Great Barrington Fairground, a place which both as a cause and a location is very close to my heart. The fairgrounds housed an actual fair through my whole childhood, and every September, I remember going to see the apple pies and the gargantuan pumpkins and my favorite, the demolition derby. In 1995, a tornado hit our town, taking out buildings here and there wherever it felt like it. The tornado ripped through the fairgrounds, and although there was some rebuilding after that, the property ended up getting stuck in the hands of people from far away who didn’t care about it. Finally last year, friends of mine got the money and energy together to buy it and in the hopes of returning it to the community. I couldn’t be happier, and I love being there at the market with the mountain behind me, standing in the place which for so long now has been empty save for teenagers looking for hidden places. The ground itself seems to be glad to have us.
I’ve found, mostly through my brief-ish stint in local politics, that New Englanders on the whole are resistant to change. The most common question I’ve heard at the market this year is “How do you like the new digs?” and sometimes I can tell they like it and hope I like it too, but other times the question seems to come from a place of hoping I’ll say I don’t like it, so that we can commiserate together about how everything should stay the same forever and ever. I feel like a New Englander through and through, but I was born in California, and maybe this explains why I love change. I’d shift the furniture my house every day if I had nothing else to do. That’s one of the reasons I made an impatient politician.
I work at the Great Barrington farmers’ market on most Saturdays for Indian Line farm. This is part of my story, and although Elizabeth (the farmer, and my friend, who I work for) and I can’t seem to remember what year I started working at the market, my best guess would be 2007, and that makes this my eighth year. I started out as a working member of the CSA, and then I loved working at the market so much I took it on as a real job. It was talking about vegetables that got me started writing recipes in the first place, and writing here.
This past week, we had a pile of broccoli raab and a pile of radishes (3 varieties!), two of my favorite vegetables. Everyone wanted to know what to do with broccoli raab, and I got to talk about it all morning. I’m in the middle of a crunch for a deadline on this new book- I wake up when it’s still dark out and I write all day, and sometimes it feels like I’m plodding out recipes like a zombie. (If zombies wrote cookbooks, that is.) But last week, it was so good to think up recipes based on what people wanted to eat, to imagine thought bubbles of dinner and point to the other stands where they could find the cheese, the bread, or the meat that would go with it all. It made me feel revitalized and happy that I do really write recipes for a living. And because we’re a little conditioned to go about our business with a shopping list and our head down and not a lot of eye contact, I though it might be good to say out loud that there are people who like to talk about food at every farmers’ market, and that every market has a history and community story. Farmers’ markets are a such a good food places–I know I don’t have to point that out (especially here). But they’re also such good people places, and farmers and vendors and regular people like me who might work there are usually pretty excited to talk about what’s there and how it got there and what to do with it, or to tell what they know of the story of the market itself. This past weekend, I was working with my friend Lissa, who’s one of the best cooks I know. Ask her what to do with a bag of micro greens, and you’ll pick up an extra bag or two by the time she’s done, just so you can make everything she’s told you about. The people, and the story behind each market itself, is one of the things that makes farmers’ markets so different from supermarkets. And I think, informed eaters that we are, we tend to analyze the food itself. We ask about pesticides and GMO’s and whatever else we’re wanting to know. And these are all good questions, of course, of course. But I’d suggest adding a few more. “What’s you’re favorite food on this table today?” and my personal favorite, “What do you think I should do with it?”
My favorite way to cook broccoli raab is to roughly chop an entire bunch, leaving out the last inch or two of stem. If there are flowers in the bunch, even better. But the whole thing in a wide saucepan with an inch of water and a knob of butter. Bring it up to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli raab is tender and deep green, 3 to 4 minutes. Toss the raab in the buttery water, drain off any excess liquid, and sprinkle crunchy salt and red pepper flakes over the whole pan.