Union Square Green Market

(Edible) Food Does Not Grow in Refrigerators

I stand in awe of my sister’s refrigerator. It’s a Sears Kenmore, 14 cubic feet. Once I asked her how old it was and she said “very old.” We’ve been visiting for forty-plus years, so I guess it is “very old.”

My sister Elsie and her daughter Linda

My sister lives in a lovely garden apartment in New York City, but the kitchen is so tiny and overhead cabinets hang so low, that contemplating change is like figuring out how to stuff a sow’s ear into a silk change purse.

What awes me is the strategy my sister has developed to pack food away, the finesse with which a random conglomeration of wrapped packages, glass jars, plastic containers and what-nots are deftly layered, pigeonholed, balanced with laser-like precision.

Being quick of mind, you may immediately conclude that, aha, my sister has to play musical crocks every time she needs to get something out of the fridge.

Norwich Meadows Farm booth at Union Square Green Market in New York City

Sorry, but you would be mistaken. On a recent visit, she fed me like a queen. Smoked salmon? Magically, a tray of salmon appeared.

Cream cheese, too? Out came a plate with slabs of cheese. Try some tomatoes, they’re excellent, and sliced onions.

Here’s some mesclun, and romaine, a few varieties of fresh lettuce slipped on the table before I realized it. Oh, I hard-boiled some eggs for us, too.

Butter for the rye bread? And there’s cream for your coffee. Do you mind bottled coffee? It’s so hot out, I thought I’d skip brewing. A large bottle of (good-tasting) strong coffee came out, along with cream and ice.

Handmade Farmstead Cheeses from CT, in high demand at the Market

Now you are probably assuming, quite naturally, that there must have been lots of clunking and clanking in the kitchen, that my sister was continually fluttering back and forth like that battery-bunny.

Trust me, we are not a family of flutterers. Our batteries are the other brand.

Further, I am so cowed by the fine-tuning of these edible geologic layers that I rarely do more than move platters to way stations before they disappear seamlessly into that 14-cubic-foot mini-cavern.

Fresh Araucana eggs from Winfall Farms

But storage is only part of the story. Where does my sister find these delectables? At my request she and her daughter took me on a walk to her favorite place to shop, the Union Square Green Market on 17th Street.

Every Wednesday and Saturday (Mondays and Fridays on a smaller scale) an astounding farmers’ market rises from blank pavement, like a full-up movie set with a cast of thousands.

And a phalanx of trucks whose carrying capacity would dwarf a convoy of semis. Like a mirage, it all vanishes by evening.

Imagine the packing up, unpacking, packing for home, and unpacking again

The magnitude of the affair boggles the mind, but then, don’t forget, this is New York City, where everything is out-sized.

Surely, this has to be one of the top ten tourist attractions here.

Growers and producers arise before dawn to truck goods in from farms in outlying counties.

They set up canopies, unload equipment, arrange products, post signs (whew!) and put on smiles to land early-bird shoppers.

I’ll take one of everything on the table, thank you very much

The goal, of course, is buying and selling. Marketing produce, most of it organic, is what sustains these energetic entrepreneurs, keeps them coming week after week, year after year to this urban outpost.

Shoppers are serious in their pursuit of fine products, as are chefs who regularly pick up special orders.

But there is an air of holiday, too. Friends meet friends for coffee, families come for a taste of the outdoors, casual strollers bump into neighbors. My sister is a regular, hence her delectable refrigerator.

Keith’s produce stand, famous for his garlic,  features lovely herbsand a variety of vegetables and tree fruit.

One of my sister’s favorite vendors is Keith. His last name is Stewart but she has only ever called him by his given name.

For more than two decades he has been selling organic produce that he grows on his farm in Orange County, New York. He is famous for his garlic, but he also offers over a hundred varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables.

My sister has known Keith a long time, though probably not as long as she has known her refrigerator. One Christmas she gave me his book, It’s a Long Road to a Tomato, Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life. It’s available from Amazon paperback new or on Kindle for about $15; used copies cost less.

Some pointed humor for urbanites.

It’s a must-read for people like me who grew up in suburbia and chafe at standing in line at the super market or (in season) speed-stop for cantaloupe from the Melon Man. (Our Rocky Hock melons are second-to-none.)

But if you grew up in a rural area you will recognize the combination of romance and true grit Keith puts into his reflections on all things farming, from weeds to porcupines and dogs.

Keith is earnest when he talks  about the nuts and bolts of running an organic farm, but good humor and deep love of nature are co-partners. Chores are never finished, yet there is always time to spend a moment admiring the swallows nesting in the barn.

I’m glad my sister keeps her old fridge and shops at Union Square.

I know her (Keith’s) tomatoes are organic – and tasty.

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