A farmers' market in the deepest of winter is a magical thing, a miracle almost. Here on the temperate west coast, we have the privilege and pleasure of fresh produce in our winter markets but even so, the experience is one of restraint. For me, there is such beauty and discovery in this restraint, and abundance, too, if I open my eyes and slow down enough to receive the offerings of winter.
In the dimmed-light, drizzled-damp winter market, the bright colors of mandarins and persimmons burst forward, promising sweetness and tang and a subtle spiciness. Piled up next to them, deep ruby pomegranates offer to heal all ills and crazy-limbed, yellow citron--Buddha's hand--perfumes the air. (I buy one, bring it home, and its scent fills my tiny apartment.)
The next stall is devoted to the bitter flavors that rule the winter--endives and chicories and escarole. The pungent and strong are represented here, too, in leeks, onions, garlic, mustard greens. There are hearty lettuces, boxes of chervil, tiny Brussels sprouts, and bunches of strong winter herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary.
I turn a corner and stumble upon piles of nuts, heaps of nettles, ropes of rich salty sausages. On a table covered with a pretty cloth, jars of honey are lined up in the wan morning light, the roar of summer sunshine captured in their rippled glass jars. The earthy root vegetables are here, too: potatoes, parsnips, beets, turnips and fat red carrots, all turned sweet by the cool, shortened days.
Everything in the winter market feels appropriate and perfectly in place. The rich, salty, fatty sausages; the bitter greens; the sweet, juicy, slightly wrinkled pears. A complete feast for wintertime.
I tend to be fooled by the wanton abundance of summer and harvest-time, believing that this extravagant cornucopia is the highest offering. But actually it's the winter market that moves me the most, this magical combination of hidden, subtle treasures and a hearty enthusiasm in the face of restraint. The miracle of a handful of wrinkled satsuma oranges held in the hushed gray stillness of a winter's morning reminds me, once again, that on the deepest level we are provided for and nourished.
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Is there a winter market where you live? My friends in the deep north speak of hoop houses and raised beds kept warm with thick layers of compost, and storing root crops in sand. Perhaps one day, with enough demand, even the coldest regions will return to winter markets. Tell us what you've experienced on your adventures in discovering what is growing and nourishing you this winter.
(Images from the Marin Farmers' Market: Dana Velden)