A handwritten sign tacked to a tree announces: CORN, NEW LAID EGGS, STRAWBERRIES, and the driver’s foot eases off the pedal. The car slows as we scan the road ahead. And there it is — the roadside farm stand, that is as much a part of the rural landscape as the white-steepled church, standing calm and quiet on the fresh-cut lawn, and the blue-painted clapboard houses with the American flag moving softly in the summer morning breeze.
Around the rough, wooden lean-to, there are small family groups reaching for the just-picked fruits and vegetables. A wooden plank stretched between two sawhorses holds homemade jams and jellies and honey with their labels written in a spidery hand. There are mushrooms and berries; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and on two or three days a year, red currants and gooseberries and raspberries as sweet as sugar and as intense as stained glass. Fresh-baked breads and pies and cookies, gingerbread and muffins and scones are proudly arranged in doily-lined baskets, and at the end of the table are bunches of basil, parsley, thyme and sage, and jugs of newly pressed cider.
On the ground are bushels of baskets filled with apples and pears, plums and peaches, potatoes and onions, leeks and carrots, zucchini (always heaps of zucchini), burstlingly ripe, juicy tomatoes, and big and baby black eggplants. There are beets and lettuces, and shuddering green greens and brilliantly red radishes. On a side table are the eggs, brown and white, laid this very morning before the cock crowed.
The car is filled with more vegetables than we can eat in a month of dedicated consumption. But, we will worry about that later. Nostalgia drives us to buy too much. Temptation always overcomes reason.
The simple country farm stands are miniatures of the urban green markets that’s are springing up everywhere. These city markets are places where friends run into friends and pretty women wear straw hats and toddlers sleep in strollers while their parents amble from stand to stand. Here there are even more choices than in the country.
There are dairy stalls displaying fresh goat and cottage and artisanal cheeses. There are a dozen kinds of wholesome breads, dark and raisin-studded along with a scattering of onion wisps baked into the crust. There are trays of ‘good-for-you’ sprouts. The chickens are free-range, the ducks plump, and the little poussins come from local farms. Smoked meats, bacon and pork and venison sausages sell fast, as do the blush wines from the neighborhood vineyards.
And in the fall, there are a dozen kinds of apples, tiny squashes and pumpkins big as a bathtub.
Street musicians fill the air with the sound of fiddles, and little children shyly step forward to drop a coin in the hopeful hat.
Shoppers buy from their favorite farmers, whom they know by name. Warm hands receive the money and pass the fresh foods they have themselves nurtured, hand picked, and packed into trucks before the morning’s first light.
These markets are our continuing link with our real or imagined past.
Here, we feel renewed and refreshed, for there are few things that give greater pleasure than shopping at the market, carrying everything home, and transforming it into a beautiful lunch for friends, who will spend the rest of the afternoon with their elbows on the table, a glass on wine in hand. Blissfully satisfied.