I've been too busy to blog much the last few weeks, but as you may have seen, I've posted some pictures below. I wanted to give a quick explanation of the eggplant picture. The two orange spheres really are eggplant - they're Turkish eggplant, and I, an eggplant disliker, have decided I love Turkish eggplant. The texture is firmer than regular eggplant, more like a green tomato. I also think the color is gorgeous.
I picked these up because, two weekends back, the Harvard Square farmers' market featured a chef improvising samples out of raw materials he was grabbing from the different vendors. He prepared the eggplant in a way I never would have thought of on my own. He didn't salt the eggplant; he just chopped it into large chunks. He cut hot peppers into small slivers. Then I believed he sauteed the peppers a bit, added the eggplant, then poured apple cider over it all and let it cook down until the eggplant was tender and the cider syrupy. He finished the dish with fresh mint. It was fantastic, with a relish-like sweet-tart piquancy, and a brightness from the mint. I replicted this at home as best I could without any mint; I added some dry mustard, black pepper, dried basil and celery seed. The effect was of course more relish-y and less complex than the fresh mint version, but it was still very good, and a brand-new way of approaching eggplant to boot. I used, as he did, a mix of lavender and Turkish eggplant, but I should have stuck with the Turkish. The lavender turns an unappealing shade of gray when cooked, but the Turkish orange remains vibrant.
Cooking demostrations are a sign of a good market. A lot of people are very intimidated by unfamiliar fruits and especially vegetables, and a demo of a simple cooking technique can give them the courage to try something new. This is good for the farmer and the customer. I also like printed recipes, which the Massachusettts Farmers' Market association has been providing this year in the form of oversized cards with very handsome photos on the front. My friend who manages the Framingham market made sample lunchboxes for back to school, using bread, fruit and vegetables from the market, with only cream cheese and cheddar purchased out-of-market (they don't have a dairy person yet, unfortunately). I think that's a great idea, and I would love to see more of the markets doing that sort of thing. I hate to see people leaving a market that's full of interesting things carrying just tomatoes or just corn.