I always learn something new at my neighborhood farmers market.
Sometimes that something is instructive. I’m adding this book to my vacation reading list on the recommendation of the young woman selling my favorite bread. It’s a freezing cold rainy Sunday in Seattle; let’s just say the market wasn’t very crowded today so she was catching up on her reading. Good bread and reading about food – obviously a gal after my own heart.
Sometimes my market lesson smacks down the obviously romantic notions this city-girl has about farm life. Most weeks we try and buy our eggs from “C”. Actually we buy them from her dad and I love to hear about the chickens, the latest possum intrusion, and other “farm-y” tales. “C’s” eggs are gorgeous, rich and amazingly tasty, but I think in my mind “C” is a fresh-faced, perennial 8-year old with freckles. At least that’s the picture her hand-drawn labels have conjured over the past several years we’ve been enjoying her eggs and chicken stories. You can imagine my surprise when today I purchased an especially handsome dozen (see above) from a young woman wearing a puffy parka and skinny jeans sporting all sorts of piercings and ink. Huh??? “C”, please forgive my putting you in a Little Bo-Peep box. And thank you for your chicken stewardship!
Sometimes the something I pick up merely puts my mind at ease. Coming around the corner, hooded against the rain, I spied a tiny, distinctively lobed jar with the word “fennel” written in magic marker on its gold lid. Eureka! I have the very same jar containing a fennel finishing salt at home on my kitchen counter with all the other salts I tend to collect. I had completely and utterly forgotten where the fennel salt came from.
Obviously hand crafted, and decidedly delicious, I had a nagging suspicion it was a gift I hadn’t properly thanked someone for. My husband thought maybe I had whipped it up myself; I’ve always got some sort of project going in the kitchen. But I pointed out the label was NOT my handwriting. I may be losing my short term memory, but thank goodness I still know my own handwriting! Ah… mystery solved. My tasty fennel finishing salt – slightly sweet, delightfully savory – is the handcrafted work of the good people at Rockridge Orchards.
I think I startled the folks behind the counter on this darn chilly morning with my exclamations. Now that I have a story associated with it, the provenance of my fennel salt is firmly entrenched in my kitchen psyche. It might not seem like much to you but it’s a nagging weight off of my mind.
Even better, the farmer guy turned me on to their very special, highly seasonal and select “Rocksalmic Vinegar.” Among dozens of other ventures, Rockridge Orchards produces artisanal ciders and vinegars. “Rocksalmic” is a balsamic-like product, (get it? Rock-salmic) and only offered for a very limited time in the early spring. So limited that he expected he’d only have it “this weekend and next. After that you’ll just have to wait until next April!”
A tiny sip of the dark syrupy vinegar was at once very tart and sweet – mostly sweet, but not cloying. The color of maple syrup and having some of the same complexity of the really good stuff – you know, from real maple trees, tasting smoky, sweet, and a little bit burnt-but-in-a-good-way. My oh my…
Turns out this lovely elixir starts out as simple apple cider vinegar pressed from Rockridge Orchard fruit. Seven years corked in oak barrels from Northern France transforms the lively, potent and frisky vinegar (think pierced teenager imbued with beauty and youthful stamina) into a mellow, smooth, caramel-brown viscous nectar (think wise, knowing, multi-faceted middle age—only with a memory) . “It’s very good on vanilla ice cream,” he whispered to me conspiratorially.
I love a good story – especially one that involves French oak with naturally occurring vanillin and lightly charred sugars – but frankly, he had me at that first sip. I gladly forked over $15 for my share of this year’s blissful yield.
We’re having family supper tonight in celebration of my husband’s upcoming birthday. Steamed artichokes, grilled romaine, and beef stroganoff; but the meal is simply something to get through to get to the real point of the feast: blackberry pie. It’s the very end of last year’s harvest. No cozy oak barrels for these berries; just a zip lock bag in the basement deep freeze. I confess I bought a pre-made crust. I still have hopes of spending a little time out in the garden rather than making pastry indoors today. But where there’s blackberry pie, there’s vanilla ice cream. You can guess what I’ll be dribbling on my scoop!