This week, my parents came to visit us here in North Caroline for the first time in nearly 2 years. Giddy with excitement for their arrival, we cleaned, and planned, and gave the puppy a bath. I set up a tee time for Kirk and my dad, made a cake for the party we would attend on Friday, and checked into the local calendar of events. All was in order, and on Friday Kirk and I piled in the car and headed for the airport.
A lovely boat ride on Saturday afternoon
As soon as we saw them on the sidewalk with their two neatly packed carry-ons (yay!) in hand, our weekend officially began. We had a fantastic dinner on Friday, and a wonderful day on Saturday. Come Sunday morning, Kirk and Dad headed off for some target practice and a movie, and Mom and I weighed our options. What to do on a glorious Sunday afternoon?
Shopping, of course!
But, probably not the kind of shopping you are thinking of, dear reader. The wares that tempted Mom and me that day are of a slightly more earthy persuasion than can be found in the aisles of DSW or among the racks of Ann Taylor. We drove right past the posh and polished mall and went straight for … the Farmer’s Market!
Not the first pace you would take a visitor on a holiday weekend, I’d wager, but I could not imagine a more perfect place for us. Mom and I both share a love of food. And not just any old food (if you put a Twinkie in front of me, I would just as soon use it as a doorstop than eat it. Unless it is Armageddon, in which case it may come in handy as … yeah, still a doorstop). No, the food that calls to us is the fruit of the earth – literally. The food God intended for us to eat, grown from seeds sewn in the earth and harvested when the time is right.
Bursting with excitement, we pull into the parking lot and head for the long open building which houses the seasonal stands. At the very first stall, we are greeted with basket after basket of mountain grown apples. A symphony of greens and yellows and pinks and reds, each one more inviting than the last. MacIntosh and Granny Smiths, Jonagold and Red Delicious, they all looked crisp and fresh and totally delicious. We sampled our way along the row, until at last we arrived at the piece de la résistance: Honeycrisp!
For years Kirk and I traveled to the mountains over Labor Day to attend the Hendersonville Apple Festival for the sole purpose of bringing home our very own bag of Honeycrisps. Crisp and sweet and tangy and juicy all at once, there is no better apple in my book. Now, with the overflowing baskets of them teasing us, I can’t help but make my first purchase—a large bag of honeycrips—followed immediately by our second. How can we pass up the opportunity to buy fresh-dug peanuts, still wet from the damp earth?
The vendor chats with us about the county they are grown in, and offers us a little Dixie cup of fresh apple cider. Despite having no sugar added, it tastes of the very nectar of the heavens, perfectly sweet and oh so refreshing. I look the other way as Mom snags another sample.
While drinking the cider we notice the bags of pecans, and I ask the vender if they are fresh. She grins, her eyes sparkling behind her glasses. She opens the nearest bag and holds it out to us. “Taste for yourself. They hardly get any fresher than this.”
We pop the nuts into our mouths, and without conscious thought my eyes flutter closed. So rich and moist and buttery, I can hardly believe they are the humble offerings of an unassuming gnarly tree so common in the south. My mom holds up a couple of bills. “We’ll take two, please.”
Our arms already overflowing, we duck out to the car to drop off our first load. When we return, we decide to start at one end and make our way to the other, waiting to make any more purchases until our return trip. Bypassing the apple and nut stand, we arrive at the next table on the row. Here, fresh herbs and spices are mixed to create one-of-a-kind flavorings, and there are dozens of samples to try. And try we did: herbs in oil, cream cheese or sour cream, fresh made salsas of every heat and flavor, coleslaw, dips, dressings, and soups. After so much yumminess, we break our own rule and immediately buy two packets of herb seasoning blend. Tucking them into our bags, we forge ahead.
Next we pass glorious bouquets of flowers, beautifully arranged in every color combination you could think of. I wanted so badly to choose one, but with a nice vase of flowers waiting at home, I couldn’t justify it, even with the ridiculously reasonable price of under $13. Beyond the flowers are the offerings of a German bakery, and we just barely force ourselves to pass up the fragrant breads and pastries.
As we stroll down the main corridor, we are almost overwhelmed with the vibrant colors and selections all around us. Eggplant in nearly every shape and size, from white to blushing to nearly midnight purple; peppers in yellow, red, green, and white; canary yellow squash; purple, white, and yellow onions; robust green beans, orange sweet potatoes still coated in dirt. The variety is endless and beautiful and incredibly enticing. The farmers answer our questions, from where things are grown to how best to eat them, friendly and eager to share their knowledge and the fruits of their labors.
We pass rows of fresh peaches, which sit plump in their baskets just waiting to be taken home and put into a cobbler. We taste a few and go weak in the knees, the flesh so sweet and juicy, I feel as though I could close my eyes and be in the orchard, pulling the fruit from the branches as the hot, heavy wind caresses my cheeks. We try to keep to the plan, willing ourselves to walk away, but we just can’t pass those peaches up. I ask the farmer, an old man looking to be in his seventies with his lovely wife at his side, to pick us out a good one. He grins and offers us a wink. “Young lady, they are all good. I should know, I planted ‘em, picked ‘em, and brought ‘em here to you.”
We choose two baskets, despite the fact my parents are leaving the next day and it will be up to Kirk and me to eat them all. How could we not? Perfect peaches only come along every so often, after all. Especially ones offered up by two honest, hard-working people who in and of themselves seem to be a precious slice of Americana.
We move on through the remaining booths, buying crisp Kale, plump tomatoes, bright shiny peppers, and even the last of the summer blueberries. We taste raw sweet corn, plums, cantaloupe, watermelon, and even a few slices of tomatoes. The food is bountiful, and gorgeous, and makes me feel closer to God and nature just looking at it. Our bags weighing heavy on our shoulders, we return once more for the car to deposit our second load of the day before heading off again, this time to the indoor market.
Inside, we are greeted by candy sellers, soap makers, wood carvers, and bakers. North Carolina wines fill one booth, ice cream another, and free-range eggs yet another. Fresh churned butter and heavy blocks of cheese are made from the milk of grass-fed, free range cows. Baked goods of every type imaginable fill display cases and many a passerby’s tummy.
After Mom and I choose several locally made soaps, each one smelling better than the last, we can deny ourselves no longer, and make our way over to the ice cream booth. I choose the triple berry – made with NC fruit and milk, and Mom goes for the chocolate. The cones are huge and dripping and utterly fantastic, and we plop down on a bench in the shade outside to enjoy them.
Around us, couples stroll, kids run by, and vendors sell their wares. The air is warm, the breeze is light, and the sunshine filters through the flitting leaves of the tree above us. We smile and chat as our ice cream disappears a little at a time. It's days like this that bring peace and contentment deep in my soul. Surrounded by wholesomeness, accompanied by not only my mother but my kindred spirit, it is hard to imagine a more perfect moment in time.
Have you visited your local farmer's market? Or do you go to the farm itself sometimes - perhaps to pick strawberries or pumpkins with your family? I really do think that feeling a connection to the food we eat is one of the great simple pleasures in life :)
And all those peaches we bought? They were put to very good use indeed :)
Perfect Peach Cobbler
Slightly modified from recipe found here
5 large peaches (or about 8 small ones), peeled, pitted and sliced thinly
3 Tbsp white sugar
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp. cornstarch
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Mix together ingredients by hand and place in the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes.
1 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter
1/4 cup boiling or very hot water
Combine dry ingredients, then cut in butter using a pastry knife until mixture resembles course crumbs. Slowly stir in water until just combined. Remove peaches from oven and drop spoonfuls of the mixture evenly over the top. Sprinkle with course sugar and return to oven for 28 - 32 minutes, or until cobbler is golden.
Serve with ice cream while warm.