I think we can take it as read that, horrible as last week was for those of us who work in offices, for those who work outside it was an absolute nightmare. And for farmers who were trying to keep their crops alive on top of everything else… well, I’m very grateful for the people who do that job, but I am *so glad* it isn’t mine!
Accordingly, it was very important to me to get to the markets this weekend, to say hello to the stallholders I know, and to generally show my support. I won’t lie – my primary reason for going to the markets is because I love food and I love new and interesting vegetables and the produce I can find at the markets is spectacular – but the opportunity to directly support local farmers comes a close second when it comes to reasons for marketing. It’s a selfish form of altruism, really – I want these people to keep on growing (or creating) the marvellous things they bring to the market, and I’m very well aware that this can only happen if people buy their produce.
I stopped and shopped at nearly every stall, and every conversation started with me asking “So, how did you go with the weather last week?” and the stallholder in question rolling their eyes and going “Oh my God…” before launching into tales of watering twice a day in oppressive heat, trying to keep fragile crops under cover, and running the sprinklers over the cattle to keep them cool during the later parts of the day. Oh, and watching over their shoulders for bushfires as they went. Lovely. I know the rural life is iconically Australian, but at times like this, it sounds like sheer hell to me.
Fruit and berries were the big news at the market today! Most of the summer vegetables were nowhere to be seen, possibly because tomatoes, at least, are fragile enough to cook on the vine. We were too late for the raspberries, which were not very numerous in this weather, but blackberries are virtually unkillable (the term ‘weed’ comes to mind), and the strawberries were somehow surviving as well. I’m totally confused about our strawberry season in Australia – it seems to go for a good six months of the year, not that I’m complaining!
At the rhubarb stall, I chatted to the women I’d bought rhubarb from at Flemington the week before, enthusing about rhubarb ice-cream as I bought more rhubarb for to stew with spices and split peas later in the week. I love their deep red carrots, and got through the entire batch from last week, as well as all the ones that had been stashed in other parts of the fridge, so of course I had to get a bundle more, along with some long, purple beetroot and some delicately pink radishes.
I am already feeling virtuous with regard to those radishes – not only do I have plans for the radishes themselves on Friday, but I have already used their leaves (and the beetroot leaves, too) in a pasta dish. Positively shining with frugal virtue, that’s me.
I didn’t really need blueberries, but the blueberry farmers have stopped coming to Coburg (twice a month seems to mean half the custom, so it isn’t worth their while), which is very sad, so I had to stop and say hello. After the usual commiseration over the heat, I naturally found myself buying two little blueberry pies, now stashed in the freezer for a rainy day.
The Tivoli Road Bakery has a stall at Fairfield! This wouldn’t normally have caught my eye, but it was reviewed recently by a fellow food blogger (and I apologise to that food blogger, because I cannot find the review now and can’t think who it might have been), and the phrase ‘salted caramel doughnut’ is not one that one forgets. Sadly, nobody else had forgotten it either, and they were all sold out – we had to make do with lamington doughnuts instead, which wasn’t the same thing at all. I may have to find an excuse to visit that bakery directly.
We had not one but two mushroom stalls at Fairfield yesterday! My usual mushroom man was there with his swiss browns and portobellos, but there was another stall with all sorts of exotic mushrooms – shiitake, chestnut, oyster, black fungus, enoki, and many others that I’d never heard of. I’m pretty excited about this – I’ve always rather hoped that one of the markets would start doing wild or exotic mushrooms, and this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing in a Melbourne market. I chose shiitake and chestnut, because I did at least have some vague idea what to do with them. I asked my regular mushroom man about the competition, but he’s happy to have them there – apparently these mushrooms are all much more of a pain to grow, and last week was quite annoying enough with the standard varieties…
I thought I’d better get some more vegetables, which is when my eye fell on the man making braids at at the Greek garlic stall.
Isn’t it beautiful? I have this one hanging up in my pantry right now, and it makes me happy just to consider it. Shortly, I’m going to roast more garlic, to go into an evil sauce with puréed cannelini beans and lemon juice that will be perfect with roasted root vegetables.
And speaking of root vegetables, the potato stall had a variety I’ve only ever heard of, but not tasted. Pink Fir Apple potatoes. I’m not sure about the origin of this name, but I suspect it is because the eyes make them look a bit like pinecones. The stallholder warned me that they are quite addictive, with their waxy flesh and strong potato flavour, and he was right. Already, I want more…
The next stall had zucchini flowers! You know how I feel about zucchini flowers, right? Of course you do. I bought a dozen of them, gleefully, and then compared recipes with the stallholder. I’ve been feeling faintly guilty at not even attempting to pick zucchini flowers from my garden, but apparently this is trickier than it might appear at first – there are, it seems, proper times of day for this sort of thing. I also invested in oregano and purple basil, not to mention rainbow chard. Though at least, for once, I know exactly what I want to do with said chard! I have this awful habit of buying it because it is pretty and then not using it…
Of course, one of the things you put in zucchini flowers is cheese, so I had to go next door to L’Artisan Cheese, where I was totally seduced by raclette, which is not suitable for stuffing flowers at all. Fortunately, it’s very suitable for melting over beautiful pink fir apple potatoes for lunch…
I rarely get to farmers’ markets which have milk for sale, so I made a point of visiting the main dairy stall, where I was offered milk in one or two litre bottles, yoghurt both standard or Greek, and four litres of cream.
This is a lot of cream. I enquired as to whether it came in smaller quantities. Apparently not. Visions of man-eating panacotta swam in my head, and I decided to stick with the milk and the yoghurt.
(Incidentally, I’m sure you will all be glad to hear that all the cows survived the heatwave. I know I was.)
I was actually not feeling too well yesterday (or today, as it happens), and when I’m not well I get obsessed with making soup and bread. So pumpkin was necessary. And it turns out that even when I already have rhubarb *and* strawberries *and* blackberries, I can’t walk past apricots without buying them…
And at that point, it was about time to leave the market and go home to curl up in bed and feel sorry for myself. Though it’s difficult to feel truly sorry for oneself while reading Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat and contemplating one’s glorious array of farmers market delights and all the beautiful food we will be eating this week…
Menu, for those who are amused by such things
Sunday – Pumpkin Soup and Oregano Pizza for lunch; blackberry cake for afternoon tea; stuffed zucchini flowers in passata for dinner, with balsamic strawberries for dessert
Monday – Sultana Pizza for breakfast; leftover radish green and sausage pasta for lunch; roast veg with garlicky cannelini beans for dinner
Tuesday – Sultana pizza for breakfast again, leftovers for lunch, mushroom sandwich on oregano pizza for dinner.
Wednesday – Smoothie for breakfast, Carrot and Beetroot Salad with burghul and figs for lunch, wild mushroom tacos followed by lamb and black bean chilli for dinner.
Thursday – breakfast and lunch as for Wednesday, rainbow chard pie with prunes and pine nuts for dinner, leeks vinaigrette, apricot crumble
Friday – apricot crumble for breakfast with yoghurt, swiss chard pie for lunch, radish crostini for a snack after work, beetroot pasta for dinner
Saturday – smoothie or crumble for breakfast, rhubarb and split pea soup for lunch, BBQ for dinner
(I do love having my menu planned for the week, even if it is a lot of cooking…)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~One Year Ago: Half-Baked Fruity Muesli Two Years Ago: Vanilla Poached Stonefruit