There’s a farmer who specializes in Asian vegetables and sells at the Berkeley Farmers Market. Since Full Belly has no greens at this time of year I brought home a large bunch of his Water Spinach, a steaming green that has thin long leaves and hollow tender stems. I had never cooked it before so I was following my own maxim, something I find myself saying quite often when I’m behind the Full Belly market stand, “Every time you try something new, you live a day longer!”
Chefs are returning to the farmers markets in greater numbers now that lockdown has lifted. They are preordering and also buying straight off the table. They need little encouragement when it comes to trying new things. They create quite a buzz with their enthusiasm about produce and especially anything new and interesting. Asked what inspired her to become a chef, one of them described her grandma’s cooking and the memories that she associates with putting food on the table. Her memories reminded me of my English grandma’s puddings and cakes, and the sweet smell of her pantry under the staircase of her house in Birmingham.
A lot of us simply need to get breakfast and dinner on the table, with little hope of achieving the rarified cuisine of the professionals, but the chef crowd that comes out to the Market is a down-to-earth crew, letting the season’s harvest determine their menu. Their creations are based on what Nature provides and in the best case, their menu offerings evoke the soil, wind and colors of the place that the ingredients came from. They each had different strategies for making it through the lockdown, and we are sure glad to see them back.
Like the chefs, we rejoice in the beauty of the produce coming out of the fields this summer. In the last 10 days the heat has pushed our fields into full-tilt production and Full Belly is exploding with summer produce. Even in this drought year when it is easy to question the long-term sustainability of agriculture in California, the fields are soaking up the sun, heat and irrigation water and bursting with abundance and color.
The practice of cooking and tasting a vegetable that comes from a different cuisine, or tasting an unfamiliar fruit, is one way of appreciating the diversity of life. The restaurants are opening up again — full of flavors from many cultures. If you have a chance, maybe you will visit one. By the way, the Winter Spinach was delicious. I’ll have to try some of the other Asian greens that my new farmer friend is selling
— Judith Redmond