When I’m at the farm market here in the north country, focus can be a difficult thing. I go in with a plan, I really do, but then the radishes I wanted so badly are not there, and Bill tells me they just didn’t do well for him this year. Besides, he says looking around at the bounty, other crops take precedence. So I regroup. I start packing tomatoes in a brown bag with a combination of stress and excitement—the stress-excitement mix is the kind of thing you feel as you are looking for a parking spot to go to a concert that has general seating. You see lots of other people going in and you can’t wait to get in there and get yours before all the good seats are gone. The tomatoes have a limited lifespan now, and I want to buy them all but know that I can’t. I see some people leaving with bushels of them and I wonder what’s wrong with me that I don’t take bushels home, run them through a mill and freeze them for the cold, dark winter. Mrs. Fata, our neighbor from the old neighborhood on Wagon Wheel Lane, told my mom and me recently that that’s what she did with all of the tomatoes from her garden. I love tomatoes but they do make me feel inadequate.
The tomatoes are the only vegetable at the farm market that make me crazy like that. The apples are beautiful, and bountiful, and they don’t stress me out. In fact, it takes me some time to warm up to the apples each year. They come to the scene like an unwelcome stepmother in August, when the last thing I want to do is realize that summer’s ending and fall is a-coming. I shun apples in summer, actually, and have a tendency to scold friends who keep apples in their fruit bowls before September. It’s an odd thing, given that apples are so delicious and gorgeous, and given that Cindy, one of my best friends, grew up on a magical apple orchard not far from where I lived. She shared the wonder of it all with me, and my memories of that and her family there loom large in my happy nostalgia. But I’m still trying to figure out which apple combination is best for a pie, embarrassed to ask because I should know that by now. I gravitate to the enormous honey crisps, so I take a basket of them and as I’m checking out at Bill’s, I ask the woman behind the counter if these are good for pie. She almost snaps at me. “I don’t know why you’d use those for pie when there are plenty of others for that.” What do you mean, I ask. “Honeys are too expensive for pie. But you do as you like.” So these are better to eat straight and not to cook with? “That’s right,” she said. Lesson learned. I still didn’t get an answer about which are best for pie, but at that point I thought it best just to shut it.
When I went in for the leeks recently, my heart was racing as I drove up the hill to Bill’s, wondering if leeks would be gone by now and then what would I do? Sometimes my sister Peg has to remind me that just because it’s not available at the farm market doesn’t mean it’s not available. “It’s called the grocery store,” she says. I know, but I have gotten deep into the seasonal and sometimes I can’t let go of it. The leeks were there, just a few bundles left. I started taking pictures of them. People walk past and most of the time I don’t notice because my head is in the camera. When I did finally look up from the leeks there was a very young boy standing there watching. “Hi,” I said. No response, so I didn’t say anything else either, but he kept staring. Then as I was packing up my camera he said, “Why were you taking pictures of that?” It’s fun, I told him. He crinckled up his nose. “That’s weird,” he said, and with that he ran off, not even giving me a chance to defend myself. When I turned away there was an elderly man who had witnessed this exchange, and he simply said with a nod, “Out of the mouths of babes.” Yes sir, I said, yes sir.
2 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
3 tablespoons high quality olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced (green center removed)
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Slice the leeks in half lengthwise to clean them. Slice crosswise into 2-inch chunks.
In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil to hot but not smoking. Turn down the heat and add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. It’s very easy to overcook garlic; you are barely cooking it, just enough to bring out the aroma. Add the cilantro and cook for another 30 seconds. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
In a medium saucepan, bring 8 cups water to boil. Salt the water with 2 tablespoons salt.
Add leeks to the boiling water and reduce heat to simmer. Poach until the leeks are just tender to bite, about 4 minutes; do not overcook because the leeks will “melt” and fall apart. Taste a leek every minute or so to determine when they are done.
Drain the leeks and add them to the olive oil mixture, stirring gently to coat the leeks completely. Serve immediately, garnished with more cilantro if you like.
Find a PDF of this recipe here.