Small Town Farmer’s Market & Freezing Peaches

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I was visiting my hometown of Fredonia, New York for a few days that finally, for the first time, coincided with the new local farmer’s market. That this farmer’s market is only two summers old is worth noting, as Fredonia is home of the first Grange in the United States (location, about three blocks from the shot above). Sure, this area has always been known for its agriculture, and road-side farm stands have long been offering local produce (and sometimes, produce from far away as well, but that’s another story), but the local farmer’s market represents, I believe, a shift in the way that my hometown neighbors think about where their food is from.

When I was young we often frequented the road-side stands during the summer and fall (I most vividly remember choosing ears of sweet, perfectly ripe corn) in addition to the tomatoes, zucchini, raspberries and other surplus items Nani or Grandma handed off when we visited. The farm stands were easy –  we passed a half dozen on the road that led from my childhood home to the closest town center – and the produce was at the peak of ripeness. OF COURSE we would buy from the local farmer who had harvested that morning rather than buying corn from the supermarket, with its browning silk and dry husks.

When and why did this mentality change? I wonder. Because about the same time I moved out as an adult, first for college and then to a big city eight hours away, my grandmother’s garden began to shrink and the supermarkets grew. Lives got busier. There were fewer mouths to feed. The big grocery stores just made shopping so convenient.

I see now that my urban gardening efforts were influenced by my small-town agrarian upbringing: the idea that we only ate corn in the summer because that was the only time it was available (other than in cans). I started growing things to recapture those flavors; my appreciation for the environmental, economic and health benefits came later. And I would like to think that my efforts helped to inspire my parents to both, separately, re-incorporate local and seasonal produce and products into their diets.

Not that I can take all of the credit. My efforts were followed by a societal (re)surgence of farmer’s markets, organic growing practices and general thoughtfulness about where one’s food came from. I saw more local (to my hometown) farms go organic and stores open – despite the tough economy – that offered locally grown, processed and produced food items. And, perhaps most telling, the new Saturday farmer’s market in the town square was crowded (I’ve been told) from June to October.

I went for the first time this past weekend. My mom and I walked, thinking we would just pick up some corn and maybe some fruit. My aunt had more zucchini than she could ever eat and had recently given my mother several large ones. Her neighbor also uses part of her land to garden and regularly offers up eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. But when we saw these large, fragrant and perfectly ripe peaches my mother insisted we get them.

“Do I have to can them?” she asked. Neither of us relished a few hours in a steamy kitchen during the particularly humid weekend. I told her that I froze my peaches in zip-top bags and would break off pieces for smoothies.

“Perfect. That’s what we’ll do.”

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We brought home an overflowing eight-quart basket and washed and peeled the fruit. The ripest we sliced and ate right away. My mother made a peach crisp with others and we doused some fresh ones in lime juice (for flavor and preservation purposes) and served them for breakfast the next day. The rest we put into bags that we just barely topped with local apple cider that we had bought at the farmer’s market as well to add acidity to improve the preservation of color and texture. Apple juice would have been preferable, but the spicing of this cider was pretty mild and wouldn’t affect the peach flavor much.

 

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We sealed them, squeezing as much of the air out as possible and then laid them flat to freeze. Perhaps, for the first time ever, my mother won’t have to buy a peach from the grocery store all winter long.

 

 

Preserving Peppers

While today is a beautiful fall day – a bit cool, but warm in the sunshine – I can’t help but feel that first twinge of sadness as I see the end of harvest season and winter looming. This was even more apparent at the farmer’s market today, where some veggies at the end of their season were on sale, most likely precipitated by the past week’s night temps in the rural valleys that came close to freezing.

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Thus peppers were on sale – 10 for a $1 for small sweet green ones. I have also been getting a veritable bounty of red peppers the past few weeks in the farm share, which have been accumulating in my fridge. One can only eat stuffed or roasted peppers so many days in a row until you feel a bit decadent. Plus, this year’s red peppers were the sweetest I have ever tasted. Hands down. Amazing.  I would love to taste that sweet savoriness in the depths of winter and know that what I was tasting was local and preserved at the peak of its freshness.

So today I plan to freeze some peppers – very easy: chop fresh into large hunks and freeze them in a single flat layer in a plastic freezer bag. I also will do what I did about 3 years ago when I got pounds of amazing red and green peppers the day before I was leaving the country. I roasted them whole in the oven (40 minutes or so at 350 degrees), then cleaned them of their seeds and ribs once cool enough. Then layered in a clean glass jar and covered with olive oil, making sure to eliminate any air bubbles. I kept these in the fridge all winter, sneaking a few sweet roasted peppers for salads, antipasti platters or what have you, with the bonus being the sweet pepper-flavored olive oil that added a nice twist to fried eggs, pastas, salads or potatoes. I plan to experiment with roasting hot peppers and preserving them in oil as well.