I’m very new to this idea of buying locally. The farmer’s market used to scare me. For years I was a timid shopper, unsure of the wild-looking produce, all leafy and stalky and some of it still dirty from the ground in which it grew. The market seemed expensive; I worried about blowing my meager budget. And if I did buy something on a whim because it looked beautiful or tasty, what on earth would I do with it in my own kitchen?
I was a scaredy-cat. Thank goodness I finally got over that this summer.
Evanston’s farmer’s market is my new favorite haunt. The market feels less like a shopping destination and more like a playground with free food. Daphna and I prowl the grounds, picking out tomatoes and peppers, greens and pears. The vendors ply us with slices of fresh apple and samples of berries, or with little squares of chewy, smoky grilled cheese, part melted and still warm with the grill’s kiss. Or if Daphna is hemming and hawing over the flavors of cider sold by a single vendor, a nice young man will pour us samples of all three varieties, letting us sip and discuss, weighing the merits of each. The market is a pre-lunch tasting menu. Having a friend—and not just any friend, but Daphna, my best cooking buddy—with me to sample everything makes the food taste even better.
I know they’re called free samples for a reason, but I feel a little like a thief chewing my way through stolen loot. All this free food makes me swoon with happiness. Farmers at my market exhibit such generosity that I wonder if maybe what they’re really selling is respect and kindness for earth and people. That’s something worth buying, so I dig out my wallet and I fill bags with onions and potatoes, ears of corn, some dainty colorful tomatoes. I fork over my cash and scurry home with my loot.
In my kitchen, I set down my bags. Like a good book-keeper, I tally up the receipt. The total is ten dollars. That can’t be right. I double-check my math. It is right, but I still don’t believe it. I have spent ten dollars for a bag full of the freshest food a city girl can buy. Ten dollars for a morning spent in the open-air sunshine with a dear friend, gossipping about food and new recipes, drinking cider and eating gooey cheese. Ten dollars for a kitchen now fragrant with basil’s grassy perfume. I bought a single bunch of basil for two dollars. “Bunch” is an understatement—it was more like a bride’s bouquet. I walked away with so much basil that I happily added some to Daphna’s loot and yet I still have too much basil! Is there even such a thing as too much basil? Is that like saying I have too much love? I need to give my basil a good home. I’m thinking pesto—a good choice, don’t you think? I can almost taste my sassy homemade pesto, rich with pine nuts and garlic, a green paste bound together by swirls of olive oil. I may consult a cookbook or two, but it will be delightful research—the kind that ends up on slippery pasta and craggy slices of sourdough toast. The kind that makes a person think there really is no such thing as too much basil.
Happy shopping, friends. May your toughest challenge this week be figuring out what to do with your fresh basil.