Updated: May 3, 2019
Do you Eat to Live -or- Live to Eat?
No doubt Chef Brendon of Liliahna "Lives to Eat" and this philosophy is reflected in many aspects of our culinary and lifestyle choices. We could (and probably will) write a series of posts with that theme alone, so please like/share/follow our blog so you don't miss them! In discussing how our passion for food gives zest to life, we found a shared love of The Market and will start there.
Going to Market is not just for exotic foreigners, the bougie, -- or this Little Piggy. Going to Market (Mercato, Markt, Mercado, Marché, etc.) in Europe or Farmer's Markets in the US means shopping for the very best. It's where chefs, nonnas, the health-conscious, your neighbors, and bargain shoppers go. Let's talk about why the saavy idea of "going to Market" affordably gives you unparalleled quality and is easier than you might think!
But first, I lament that we have gotten away from the Market mentality. Most of us are used to shopping at a chain superstore that has everything...including quantity over quality. Generally speaking, in one stop you receive impersonal service with lots of beeping and paging under fluorescent lighting, mediocre meats, plastic-wrapped preservative-filled bread (why are there so many ingredients?!), wilted produce, and neglected plants while also picking up some clothing (perhaps produced by child labor), electronics, shampoo, your dry cleaning, and prescriptions. Overwhelming and exhausting! The superstore is a jack of all trades, but master of none. It might sound easy and ideal until we go full circle and realize we need to know where our food comes from, if it is fresh and tastes like it should, if items are ethically-made/grown/raised/sourced, and if we really can trust the labels. E allora?
In contrast, for centuries, folks have done their shopping in the town square, often on Saturdays or a designated day, visiting the stalls of various vendors selling the very best the area and tradespeople have to offer. This means you can get purple carrots with the greens and earth still attached right from the soil-stained hand of the farmer that grew them, without the overhead costs, and no sacrifice in freshness and nutrition from shipping thousands of miles to sit on a store shelf. You can ask what farming methods he uses (hey, he might farm organically or better without the costly label of certification!), get the address of his farm for a future visit to see if reality matches his claims, and even get to know him and his family as a neighbor and friend. (Brush up on Farmer's Market terminology here.) Do we need to limit ourselves to basic carrots shipped to PA from CA when we can get amazing heirloom purple carrots right in York, Hereford, or Baltimore?
The local merchant at the market is selling what is in the peak of growing season and strives to be a master of his trade. They might have tightly curled fiddlehead ferns for just a short time or peaches so juicy their thin, fuzzy skins would never survive the bouncy trip from Georgia. She might be the best artisan baker in town, butcher humanely-raised local meats and proudly cure them using an old family recipe, or have picked the most tender heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors from her property just yesterday. In fact, many little-known varieties of fruits and vegetables are not suited for commercial sales. Their delicate skins, flesh, and flavor simply don't hold up to transportation times across the country or globe with the constant handling and vibration in vehicles, the questionable storage methods, might require crazy preservation methods, and may not have mass market appeal -- like irregular heirloom tomatoes bursting with actual tomato flavor, but in "ugly" shapes or unfamiliar colors. Vendors may be selling their own incredible raw milk cheeses, sourcing the freshest spices and produce (like the up-and-coming fun dragonfruit) with their world-wide connections, and selling their own unique hand-crafted wares -- arts and crafts perfect for gift-giving.
I love getting strawberries from Brown's Orchards Farm Market less than 10 miles from my house. The friendly Brown Family has been a bright spot in their store and our community for generations. Our family eagerly awaits their growing season (just 3-4 weeks at the end of May) because we know their berries make absolutely divine Strawberry Shortcakes. The strawberries are bright red, small, tender, and juicy. You have never tasted such real strawberry flavor with no sugar or lemon juice needed! They are so soft they'd never survive shipping past a day or two. Believe me, they are nothing like the mealy pink berries with hard white spots and hardly any taste found year-round in grocery stores. Brown's own local strawberries are worth the wait and the trip. Besides, the farm market contains a grand assortment of local specialties with fun events and spaces. Please say hi to the Brown Family and their outstanding staff while you're there!
Go to your local farmer's markets and see what special treasures you can discover in the sea of stalls! I thought I had been to most local markets, but we have only been to about five on that list of 45 near Hunt Valley. Shop Baltimore's Market for items like honey, local spirits, seasonal mushrooms, flowers, crabs, fruits & veggies, seafood, game meats, bread, dairy, herbs, funky crafts, handmade soaps, art, and prepared local speciality and ethnic foods. The small market in Shrewsbury was where a locally grown rainbow chard caught my eye for the first time and inspired us to try produce previously unknown-to-us. Farmers and artisans proudly share anything you'd like to know about their creations— including how to prepare and use them. You can purchase better quality at excellent prices if you don't mind taking the time to check out with each vendor, washing and cutting your own produce, and working with what is in season (therefore lower priced because of supply). Perhaps strike up a bargain for bulk pricing. Dress for the weather and bring your cooler and cash in case, though many now accept cards. And, it just feels good to directly support the local families in your area over giant faceless corporations! You can always find a treat from a street food stall to munch on as you shop or as a reward after your morning bargain hunting.
Which reminds me of a fond frugal memory from childhood: going with my family to the open-air market in Vicenza, Italy. We could better afford the goods sold there over most stores with enough left over for a cone of golden pommes frites cooked in peanut oil with side of mayo or aioli instead of ketchup. Yes, I distinctly remember the exact composition because we inquired in broken Italian; they were so different from what we knew from home. I'm pretty sure my love affair with fries and dipping sauce began at that moment! A small northern Italian town with roughly the same population as Peoria, IL, I was delighted to see that Vicenza still has several markets still going on throughout the week since Italians have some of my most cherished markets! I knew from this experience that open-air markets are the way to really get to know an area through all five senses. I could stroll for hours looking at and sampling the provincial items...that's just what I did during our morning in 2018 at Viktualienmarkt in Munich, Germany, after my dear hubby took the video below. There are many more wonderful outdoor markets in Europe with vendors calling out their products and pricing to the crowds!
But you don't have to travel to Europe to have this experience! Most towns have a farmer's market and Central Markets are also available in Lancaster, York, East York, and Baltimore. Many flea markets and bazaars have fresh produce and several farms sell directly to the public if you visit. They really are a fun trip for the whole family and give your kids the opportunity to pick and try healthy new foods! Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) or co-op is also a fantastic option. Many have convenient pick-up locations or even deliver! My go-to for delivered pasture-raised chicken and eggs is 4EverMoore Farm and is only a few miles from my rural home. Every other Friday my garage fridge was stocked with a properly raised whole chicken (with absolutely nothing added, not even brine) and two dozen eggs. How fresh, convenient, and easy!
Did you miss market day? I always have cash in my car in case I need to pull over at one of the many tiny roadside stands in my area to grab some eggs or local produce. Most stands are unmanned for self-serve and their hand-written sign just happened to have caught my eye while out running errands. I am truly delighted when I can pick up a dozen of organic green eggs for $3 from a stand where I can see healthy chickens freely running the premises or grab some fresh zucchini to grill for dinner. Five dollars for a huge box of ripe, red tomatoes grown by a local Amish family (vastly different from the tasteless pale mushy ones available at some grocery stores and restaurants)! That means it‘s time to get out your canning equipment. You never know what deals you might find at your local road-side stand.
My mom and grandpa used to drive us an hour to a roadside stand in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina, lured by the creamiest ice cream made on the premises (with too much milkfat content to be sold in stores) full of ripe peach chunks so sweet and succulent you might cry. We'd take home a bushel of peaches that would be devoured within days.
Time for you to Live to Eat! Grab your sense of adventure, load up the kids, and explore the farm markets in your area! Andiamo!
Maybe you have happened on a real live market in your travels and your mind was blown. I sure hope so! Once we are spoiled by humongous farm-fresh eggs with the brightest yolks and richest flavor; by the hearty, crusty crunch of freshly made bread from a baker who cares enough to grind her own wheat and cultivate a sourdough loaf without chemical-tasting preservatives; by unique hand-sewn clothing made by a team of women earning a living wage to uplift themselves and their families from poverty or other ethically made options...Boxmart isn't quite going to cut it anymore. Think outside of the box and head to your local markets!