I was in North Portland earlier in the week, far from my usual haunts, on a trip to Kaiser Permanente where I am part of a clinical trial. By good luck my appointment fell on Wednesday afternoon and I stopped at the pretty little Farmers’ Market Kaiser sponsors once a week by providing space for vendors and car parkers. It’s part of their “Live Long and Thrive” campaign, and a nod to the growing movement in favor of local produce.
Food at an open-air market almost sells itself. You have to be insensate not to be persuaded by the colors and scents. And, especially, let me share this display:
Why, they are practically erupting, those carrots.
Consider these nestled onions, turnips and beets:
See those tiny white turnips over there between the onions and the beets? Pulled from the ground when they are scarcely bigger than radishes, they are the tenderest, sweetest turnips you will ever eat. Cut off the greens but do not throw them away! Slice the turnips, at most in half, and cook them briefly in a skillet with a half inch of water on the boil. I mean briefly! These are babies, and babies cook fast. Pay no attention to how long the cookbook says to cook them. Poke them with a fork and find them still just firm and they are ready. Serve them steaming with some butter. They’ll melt on your tongue. Next to some carrots for color, they will melt your eyeballs, too.
You can prepare the greens as well, and serve them for the next evening’s supper. Again, disregard the Joy of Cooking instruction that would have you cook them 20 minutes (!), pour off the water (!), and cook them another 10 minutes, upon which you will have a pot of green mush appealing only to Popeye. Why do they always tell you to discard the cooking water, laden as it is with color, vitamins and flavor? What better stock for a quick soup than the cooking water from vegetables? Pshaw! Shame! Oh, but I was preparing turnip greens: take up your skillet again, put in a little water and a bit of butter, lay in the washed greens, and cook them almost as your would a stir-fry, except you don’t really need to stir them. That quickly, though. Five minutes. Maybe seven. They are done and tender. Maybe add a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top.
This is fast food, people! It would take you longer to defrost the Skinny Cuisine dinner in a box.
Next, by special request, I’ve retrieved a photo from the farm archives wherein are portrayed the wages of sin.
Perl was one of our first sheep, a small old ewe with what is called a “lilac” fleece, meaning her dark spots were grey not black. Her pale spots faded almost completely in the sun. She was primitive in type, had a quite sparse and greasy fleece, was instinctual in behavior, and was the matron of the flock during her tenure. Covetousness and gluttony were Perl’s faults of nature. One year we housed the young pullets in one of the lambing pens in the sheep shed. It seemed a good way to get the growing young hens out of the basement, along with their dust and smell. We lined the pen with chicken wire to keep them in and the sheep out. It worked for a while. But Perl was a smart sheep. I want no disparaging remarks about the stupidity of sheep. Jacob sheep are not your usual sheep of popular tale. They are wily and intelligent and highly likely to figure out a way to get what they desire.
Perl desired the grain of the young chickens. One day she succeeded in opening the gate to the pen where they were housed, and must have gone right to work on the chicken feeder. But, lacking a beak, she didn’t eat from the bottom of the feeder the way hens do. She ate from the top. She probably lifted the whole feeder with her head then, and the wire carry-handle of the can slipped neatly over her two horns, and she was trapped. In the afternoon I went out to feed sheep, and found the flock standing on one side of the paddock regarding Perl with distant care, and Perl herself:
“I don’t want the cheese. I just want out of the trap.”
And last, a nice pleasure of the season: We have an old rambling rose, the best of its kind, which is to say unnamed, unruly, and divinely scented. It grew in the garden of my old house in Portland where it did battle with the fence and, in time, might have won if the new owners of the place had not taken the fence down altogether. I think the rose is gone now, too. But we dug up a goodly chunk of the root back then and brought it with us to the farm. Neither half of the ramble seemed to notice the surgery and the rose now grows right up through the nearby crab apple tree in front of the house here. Early summer brings the best air from this old bloom, and the flowers though they come but once in a season are profuse. I pluck whole fully opened heads willy-nilly as high as I can reach, and set the petals to dry. As the flower diminishes, the perfume remains. One year we made rosary beads from them, a messy but so-aromatic undertaking. We nearly swooned by the time we finished with that one. One year we made scented bath and body oil. It seemed such a simple, ancient thing to do, with a result so lasting and pleasant. This year, dried rose petal sachets, I think. Christmas presents, maybe?
“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses,” wrote the poet James Oppenheim.