Food, Family and Farmer’s Market Fun
By Bonnie J. Toomey
Our daughter Jillian, a nursing student who has been into foraging and native edibles, came into the kitchen like she’d discovered gold. She’d found groundnuts twining at the wood’s edge near a dried-up stream bed that trickles by the house in the springtime. The house still smelled of pepper-and-onion omelettes and oat farls. I turned from the bags of produce and meat.
“Ground what?” I asked.
Her wavy mane was swept to one side, and her nails were filled with earth, the tips of her fingers stained with soil. Moments before, we’d all stood around the soapstone island planning dinner for everyone who’d come up for the weekend. I love to cook with my family -- it brings us together and the food always tastes better when everyone has a hand in the preparation.
“This is satisfying,” echoed Collin from the floor by the post where a sconce had dripped wax. He was scraping the floor clean with a rubber spatula and his Uncle Sean came over to help. His brother was on the floor building a puzzle. Two boxes of photographs dating back three generations were carefully unpacked on the rug in front of the couch where we’d enjoyed early-morning coffee. Natalie was setting the table for later. There’s a joyful rhythm about all of the work. It helps to smooth the frayed edges of quotidian challenges that touch everyone in one way or another throughout a lifetime.
That morning, the rain poured down the hill, and the wind tousled the tops of oaks, beeches and cedars.
“Today’s not a good day to venture out to a farmer’s market,” my eldest son said without looking up from a jigsaw scene coming together. He was right, but I needed some things, and I knew I’d be braving the rain anyway. I also knew Nat and Jill would come along. So, we’d trekked over to the local farmer’s market. Nat drove as I made a list of things on my iPhone.
Swiss chard, eggs, grass-fed meats, tomatoes, onions and berries. Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, raw milk and cheese.
We got there with an hour to spare, parking at the opposite end of Tamworth’s Main Street. The canopied kiosks lined the road from the church down to the hardware store, across the bridge and clear up to Town Hall, buildings that are the landmarks of any Main Street USA, particularly in almost every town in New England. When we opened the car doors, fresh popcorn made by the Boy Scouts greeted us below a gray and blustery sky.
We popped open our umbrellas, she-hunters-and-gatherers, stopping at the first canopy. I was aiming mainly to get out of the rain, but the sweet samples of coconut chaga lured us in. We left with seven dessert treats for that night’s family dinner and three bags of chaga tea harvested by Tamworth Tea & Tinctures. We sloshed through puddles and passed Doug Hazard, strumming and singing folk tunes on the Lyceum porch, a local coffee house and cafe where fellow basket-carrying browsers with their kids and dogs were pausing to get out of the rain and enjoy a hot beverage. I made a beeline to Red Gables Farm out of Tamworth, N.H., for organic dairy products, introducing my daughters to Bob and sending off my hellos to Amy, who had had to move a scheduled juggling magician indoors to the historic Town Hall.
“It’s the first time in 10 years it rained like this,” Bob said with a warm smile, handing the canning jars over as if they were babies. I wrapped them in old plastic grocery bags before dividing the containers between us to carry. Unwieldy, but worth the effort. Then it was a hello to Helen Steele of Steele Farm of Wonalancet, N.H., where I’ve gotten garlic, goatskin rugs and wool in the past, and over to another Tamworth hidden treasure, White Gates Farm, for heirloom tomatoes, grass-fed pork and beef.
The bags were getting heavier and the rain was finally letting up. Still, no berries.
Harold Cook of Windover Farm in South Tamworth offered that he’d have some in two weeks. I was beginning to think I’d missed out. I gave a wave to Diane Booty of Booty Farm in North Sandwich, N.H., and we moved over to peruse her tables laden with garlic, carrots, cabbage, big, bright sunflowers, and a cool hamper of aromatic basil. From there, I spotted a sole berry basket a few vendors down. Samples of mango masala spice bark and whole living peppermint crunch found their way to our palates, chocolates that soothed my so-far unsuccessful quest for berries. The ones I’d eyed were not for sale and belonged to The Living the Plant Based Life couple’s own cache. They pointed past me. “You can try inside the Town Hall,” the two suggested.
The chocolate was a delightful consolation that distracted me from my soaked feet. A few vendors up, large jugs filled with ginger and berry-colored liquids caught the girls’ curiosity. After a brief Mo’Bucha lesson by Moselle on fermented tea and a tasting that left our tongues intrigued, the girls were sold. I recommend you don’t jiggle these jars!
Jillian snagged some dog treats for Lucy over at Black Snout Dog Biscuits. We made our way back up, trying some interesting flavors of honey from another vendor, jars we gingerly stowed for safekeeping. Then it was a bag full of special mushrooms, lion’s head, which I’d prepare in butter to go with the meal, glass botanical magnets for the fridge, and a stop at Wild Wood to take home a rustic rushed stool crafted by Jim Shea.
By the time we finished shopping, we looked like three nomads walking back to the car, clothes dampened, umbrellas hooked, bags slung from our shoulders, a feather-festooned grapevine wreath in Natalie’s hand, and a single sunflower peeking out from Jillian’s canvas tote.
Back home from the market and already unloaded, Jillian stood breathless and bubbly by the pantry, asking if I had a trowel. I reached for a woven punnit off the shelf, stopped by the cellar stairs to hand her my garden tool, and followed her out the mudroom door. This time, we’d do it like those who came centuries before us -- hunt for blackberries and gather up groundnuts, tiny native potatoes that had, unbeknownst to me until that moment with Jill, sustained the Native Americans through long, hard New England winters, and later, the colonists, with whom they shared such valuable knowledge.
As Jill pulled the first groundnut up, I looked forward to gathering berries. Soon, we’d all be peeling and chopping and bustling in the kitchen to Stevie’s dance music. Then, we’d be sitting down to share in our group efforts.
Sustainable efforts, indeed.
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ bonniejtoomey. Learn more at www.parent forward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .