In Italy, shopping is not only a necessity for obtaining foodstuffs, but it is also an opportunity to socialize. While there are big grocery stores on the outskirts of town, doing one major weekly shopping trip is unheard of for the Italians Rather, they head out to the markets a few times a week to pick up what they need. Stops at the fishmonger, the butcher, the baker, the fruit and vegetable vendor. Groceries are purchased while inquiries about family and life, in general, are made. It is the neighborhood social network and it guarantees that everyone knows what is going on. Not only does the baker know that you prefer a crusty, chewy bread and that you will always get a small piece of pizza bianca for the road, he also knows that your son will be getting married next summer and yes, but the girl is also almost good enough for him. The fishmonger has put a gorgeous piece of turbot aside for you because he knows it is your husband’s favorite and that he has been under the weather for a few weeks. It is a beautiful tradition and one that I miss here in the US. I loved the ritual of perusing the stalls at the market and chatting with the vendors about what was tastiest and receiving advice about the preparation of the produce. I will never forget the look of bewilderment on Gianni’s face one October morning when I went in search of a Halloween pumpkin. He launched into a description of each gorgeous squash, rattling off a recipe for sauteed pumpkin to serve alongside my dinner. I listened patiently until he finished and then told him that I had no intention of eating the pumpkin. I simply wanted to carve a face in it. He howled with laughter and picked the perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin for me before sending me on my way.
That kind of interaction just doesn’t happen at Stop and Shop. The explosion of the culture of farmer’s markets around my area has made things so much better. When I lived in West Hartford years ago, there was a farmer’s market in the summer on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Other than that, for the best produce, you had to hope that you happened upon a makeshift farm stand on your travels. Fast forward to today and there seems to be a good, well-attended market every day of the week within a 10-mile radius of us. I know that some people find markets frustrating, thinking that the supplies seem limited but that is exactly the point. You won’t find strawberries in September or peppers in May. You will get what is in season and local. And the burst of flavor makes it all worthwhile. I like the markets and the variety they offer (particularly Ashlawn Farm and the Coventry Market) but my favorite place to shop, hands down, is White Gate Farm in East Lyme. I love White Gate Farm. Organic vegetables, Farm To Hearth bread fresh morning glory muffins, delicious green ginger iced tea and so much more. The White Gate Farm Stand is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays but if you go, be warned – it is not a place for the shy or the faint of heart. Pauline will immediately engage you in conversation: have you visited the farm before, do you know how our system works here, what are you planning on doing with those radishes? She genuinely takes an interest in all that visit and I think really strives (successfully) to create a community of people who love and appreciate quality, local and seasonal food. It is the kind of engagement and interaction that I miss most and I for one-stop there as often as I can for the produce that always comes with advice and suggestions. It feels like Italy.
Do you have a favorite farmer’s market or farm stand that you frequent? Share it with me in the comments below.
Have a great weekend!