We get a dizzying amount of pitches for Valentine’s cocktails and aphrodisiac menus (money back if you don’t end up doing it on the table!), but a call from Evan Obsatz at Butterfield Market actually piqued our interest in things one-of-a-kind. He says that on February 12, pending Customs approval, he’ll be the only local supplier to receive 40 boxes of Amou berries — large, sweet, and juicy strawberries that are carefully cultivated on Japan’s Kyushu Island. It’s Japan’s most expensive strawberry, and it’s currently in short supply, hence a $45 price tag for a box of seven to twelve. But wait — the berries are wrapped in red tissue paper and come with a certificate of origin! That should take the edge off the fact that you’re not giving her a ring.
Almost as good as Greenmarket food is the packaging. The environmentalist brings muslin for cheese-wrapping, the fashionista has a repurposed gift basket on her arm, and there’s a chef with a wheelbarrow-bike. We just met the most produce-specific shopper yet: She has a thermal bag for dairy, plastic containers for tomatoes and berries, ziplocks for baby salads, and regular bags for everything else. We stopped smushing peaches into our purse to watch her shop.
Thanks to the past few months of alternating deluges and warm, sunny days, this summer’s tomato selection is particularly ample and exceedingly acceptable. For the next six weeks or so, you’ll have your pick, whether you’re after ruddy beefsteaks to adorn burgers, many-colored teardrops sized for snacking, or bulging, odd-hued, Dr. Seussian heirlooms worth sketching before you slice into them. After the jump, a sampling of the most fetching love apples available right now.
A profusion of weighty, thick-skinned melons has rolled into town, coinciding with the sweetening of delicate heirloom tomatoes. To carry home the spoils unspoiled, we recommend heavy-duty totes for the former and a small bag or basket for the latter. Once home, make room in the fridge, since nothing beats the heat like a cool melon. But leave those heirlooms on the counter — a refrigerated tomato is never the same again.
From the overpoweringly fragrant cantaloupes to the increasingly colorful tomatoes and peppers, everything at the market sells itself these days — the vendors just try to keep up. But on the northwest corner of Union Square, you can enjoy some old-fashioned salesmanship: With his dapper suits and British-Australian accent, Joe Ades has been perfecting his patter for fifteen years, slicing carrots into strips with the imported Star peeler and offering to sell the very one he’s using to guarantee there’s no scam.
Price is far from the only variable at the Greenmarket: You have to factor in crop variety, farming practices, and location. Peaches at some stands taste young right now, while others are fully peachalicious. You’ll find firm, photogenic specimens suitable for a few days of ripening, and smushy, fragrant piles of fruit begging to be sliced right into a pie crust. Shop around, and disregard those signs prohibiting squeezing.
After sighting the season’s first apricots at the Greenmarket last Saturday, we figure the dog days can’t be far behind. Gather your dinner-party guests while the weather is still cool enough for cooking, and be prepared to switch to a raw-food (or ice-cream) diet any day now.
If, like our frugal foremothers, you’re into preserving, now’s the time to mobilize. You can buy up berries for jam, freeze pitted cherries for future pies, pickle zucchini, turnips, garlic and beets, and put up enough pesto to see you well beyond tomato season. Or take the modern approach to seasonality, and eat up while the getting is good.
Most farms will bring in the last of their strawberries in the next week or two, and prices are at their lowest now, so this is a great time to gorge on the tiny red gems. Lucky for us, a parade of other fruit awaits, from the already-appearing cherries to high-summer glories like apricots. And tri-star strawberries, a unique variety that lasts all summer, have only just begun.
If you find yourself a little cowed by the impenetrable wall of leafy greens and swarms of rabid-looking guys in chef’s jackets in Union Square every Saturday, reach out to your local farmers. They’ll point you to what’s new, at peak, or just plain easy to cook, and they’re happy to brag about which restaurants are buying their stuff. This week that means zucchini, spinach, and carrots of a kind we haven’t seen yet this season.
It feels like the first week of camp at the market, as we check out which of our friends from last summer are back and how they look this year. A few weeks later than usual, some of the most popular warm-weather farmers, like Keith’s Organics and Eckerton Hill, have returned, with tables already full and lots more to come. It’s going to be a good summer, we can just feel it.
The market has reached a critical mass: It’s no longer possible to snap up every piece of good-looking produce and carry it all home. Our plan of attack is to go early, do a walk-through before the buying frenzy, and bring big bags — oh, and hit the ATM first.
Peonies stole the show last Saturday, while strawberries have sidled in at Yuno’s stand on Mondays and Fridays. There should be berries in quantity by next weekend, but for now we’re focusing on meatier matters, like what to grill as we kick off the outdoor-cooking season.
Cool weather and rain have made for a slow growing season thus far, while also creating the ideal conditions for fiddlehead ferns, which sprout in damp, wooded areas and more than compensate for sun-bathing weather in our book.