Anyone with school kids knows that while meteorological summer ends Sept. 21, the sun-splashed season most of us relish is gone by the end of August, when the lifeguards are pulled, the State Fair ends and the school buses begin to rumble.
But the meteorologists are right when it comes to farmers markets. Even though the temps have turned nippy, it’s still the peak season for produce wandering through the Kingfield market. I understand people associating “fresh” with hot weather, but the truth is, there’s a real lag. You may not be able to experience summer in the flesh, but you can taste it on the tongue.
Summer’s work is most vividly on display in the bushel baskets. Peppers, so pricey in the offseason, are piled high; even the red ones — always pricey in the stores — spilling out of baskets with a “$5” sign taped to the side. We’re not canners, but at our house, the smell of roasted peppers — baking sheets full — fill our house, to be pureed into the first hot soup of the season, or eaten sizzling on crostini.
Fighting for your attention are the red, red bushels of apples; often so many you can buy them by the plastic tub. Last year, at the very end of the season (the last week in October), our vender, Denny Havlicek, said they would keep for up to two months if we stored them in a cool, dry place. We were eating local apples on Christmas.
Then there’s the sweet corn, which has been the star of the market for several weeks, but just keeps spilling out of the burlap bags. When the harvest first arrives in July, there’s a rush to buy, but the corn is always a bit immature, its flavors subtle, if extremely welcome.
Not so now. The sugars have burst forth, the kernels have plumped out (the late rain really helped) and the chances of you squirting a loved one as you bite in have increased exponentially. And it’s still a mere 50 cents an ear, or less.
The farmers will tell you the cool summer was rough on tomatoes, which really need the heat to finish them, but the orbs on display mock their words. I’ve never seen so many heirlooms as I’ve seen this year — we’re partial to the golden globes, but we’ve also become addicted to the purplish-green varieties, or the squat, variegated red varieties that look almost like the squash to come.
Then there’s the garlic — a half-dozen glorious varieties — piled high at the Swede Lake stand. Scott and Deanna leave the tops on some, and the stiff stalks make the hottest varieties look a bit like walking canes. The garlic, too, can be stored for weeks, but we’ve had a hard time doing that. The roasting smell is simply too good, especially when the next step is smearing it on crostini or tossing it in the red pepper puree.
To be sure, season’s end can’t be avoided, and it will come soon enough. But why dread it when it isn’t nearly here? Free your mind, and your taste buds will follow.
ROASTED RED PEPPER SOUP
2½ tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small potato, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3–4 large red bell peppers, roasted and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika salt and freshly milled pepper
1 quart water or vegetable stock Balsamic vinegar to taste
1. Heat oil in soup pot. Add onion, potato, garlic, bay leaf and marjoram. Saute over high heat, stirring often, until potato and onion begin to brown, about 12 minutes.
2. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add peppers, paprika and 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Pour in water and scrape the pot bottom. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes.
4. Remove bay leaf and blend the soup until smooth. Taste for salt, season with pepper, and add a teaspoon or so of vinegar. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped marjoram.
(Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)