January treasures at the Farmers’ Market

January 22, 2011

A sight to gladden the winter-wearied soul, this is.

Is there a more lovely sight than this in January, when it got down to 19 the night before and we’re less than a week removed from more than half a foot of snow?

There is. There is this:

The taste of June. Not quite July, prime season, but most assuredly June.

If it hadn’t been so damned cold at the farmers’ market this morning, I’d have probably wet my pants from the excitement.

It was me and three or four other customers, and three vendors: The resolute and hardy gardeners who’re offering frozen purple hulled peas and winter veggies like butternut and spaghetti squash and onions and greens, Ed the PJF guy, and the Stutzmanns, Amish farmers who offer jams, jellies, breads, cookies and the like.
I parked close, walked up to Ed’s stand and waited, huddled in my coat, while he finished with the customer before me. While I waited, I glanced to my left to the Stutzmanns’ table. And I saw a flash of red.
I knew it wasn’t Mrs. Stutzmann’s dress, and I’ve never seen them bake anything that vivid. I looked closer.
There they were. A half-dozen quart-sized paper cartons, heaped with gorgeous, red, ripe tomatos. Tomatos, I tell you! In January! Misshapen, odd-sized tomatos, so you KNOW they didn’t come from some crate carted in from Mexico, subjected to lethal doses of CO2 to force them to a state resembling ripeness. Not to mention you really wouldn’t expect the Stutzmanns to be pimping tomatos from SoCal or Florida or the Rio Grande Valley.
I strolled over, as Ed was still engaged adding up the toll for milk, eggs, chicken and beef for the lady in front of me.
“Good morning! Are those greenhouse tomatos?”
“Yes, they are. We had our first ones a couple of weeks ago.”
I bought a basket. Didn’t ask the price. Didn’t care. It was $7.50 for what wound up being about 2 1/2 pounds of tomatos. I’d’a bought ’em if it had been $75. Well, maybe not, but I wouldn’t have cringed at twice that price for a ripe tomato in the middle of freakin’ January.
So, I was going to stop by the grocery anyway, and straightway, I added to my list some fresh basil and some fresh mozzarella. And came home and fixed for myself the finest lunch I’ve had since, oh, about last September.
They’re not quite up with high-season tomatos. I expect the chilling from sitting out in their little baskets has much the same effect as does the refrigerator, for those criminals out there who put summer-fresh, vine-ripened local tomatos in the fridge, which is surely a crime against nature and one for which God will sternly hold you accountable when you get to Her presence. But they’re enough to chase the winter chill from your bones and make you think of sunny skies and lounging in the lake and drinking cold beer from a cooler and grilling burgers.
I have plans for these babies.  Today’s caprese was that little guy on the lower left, the one who looks kinda like a set of buttcheeks, because he was the ripest. Two more will be capreses. The two other smaller ones will likely get tossed in olive oil with some minced garlic, and then tossed again with some hot pasta. And that big boy? He’s the middle of a BLT, just waiting to happen.
Screw winter. Life is good, at least when you’re eating a fresh, ripe tomato.
Of course, tonight I’m back to braising, but hey, we had a respite.  If you and y’mama ‘n ’em get to jonesing for a ripe tomato, come on over to the Spa City on a Saturday morning.
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