Suddenly Summer

Here in New York it went from being unseasonably cold (low 40s at night) to unseasonably, disgustingly, drippingly warm (high 80s) in the space of a week. That’s one sign of summer, for sure. But as far as I’m concerned, the one true indicator is the resurgence of my local farmer’s market. Every Saturday from 8AM to 3PM, year-round, there’s a small market at the bedraggled park a few blocks from my apartment. Last summer—my first summer living in Williamsburg—I went every week and brought home overflowing bags of gorgeous just-picked produce. But from October until late May/early June, the choices are pretty pathetic—a baker, a dairy, an orchard selling increasingly mealy cold-storage apples, and a farmer with nothing but potatoes and onions. As much as I believe in eating local, by December I’d pretty much stopped going. Just two weeks ago I swung by, hoping to find some asparagus or ramps or something, and the only new additions were some herbs. Sad.

But today, it was a whole different story.

As soon as I got close enough to see the stands, I knew summer had arrived. Three different farmers displayed fresh cut flowers. Tender leafy things were everywhere. The orchard had finally ditched the apples in favor of sweet, small strawberries and stalks of ruby rhubarb. The potato-and-onion farm now offered eight varieties of lettuce, seven herbs, radishes, and fresh garlic. And a smaller stand, which had disappeared entirely by late fall last year, had reappeared, brandishing red Swiss chard, baby spinach, kohlrabi, and still more lettuce. It was thrilling.

I had to temper my enthusiasm a little, though—in this heat, cooking has been the furthest thing from my mind, and I won’t be around to cook much this week. I didn’t want to overdo it. In the end I bought:

  • three heads of lettuce: lolla rossa (the super-curly red stuff on the top left in the photo), green salad bowl (directly above it), and red salad bowl (draped over the strawberries)
  • two quarts of strawberries
  • two pounds of rhubarb
  • one bunch of fresh garlic—those long green strands jutting into the top right corner of the picture are attached to the firm, not-quite-cloved roots

I’ve never cooked with rhubarb or fresh garlic before, so I’ll be experimenting over the next few days (separately, of course)—suggestions are welcome in the comments section!

Before I bought the garlic, I asked the farmer all about it. He told me to expect the bulb to be stronger than stored garlic, while the greens and the scapes (the seed pod, which shoots out of the top) are milder but still garlicky. At this point, the papery skin hasn’t developed yet, so no peeling is required. If I cut off the roots and stored them as I would more mature garlic, the paper-skinned cloves would develop, but I’m too curious about the flavor difference to do that. It was all I could do not to bite into a bulb on the way home! Instead, I’ll put the whole thing in the fridge and treat it as a fresh vegetable.

I must say, I’m glad summer had arrived. Maybe if we install the kitchen air conditioner this weekend, I’ll actually cook something.