I almost passed on the downtown Greene Street Market at Nativity this afternoon (www.greenestreetmarket.com). I’m afraid I’m gathering more at my various farmers markets this summer than I have time to deal with. Birmingham’s Pepper Place on Saturday morning, Latham’s on Tuesdays, and Nativity on Thursday afternoon … occasionally, the Alabama Truck Farmers market on the industrial side of Birmingham, a few others here and there.
At the last minute, though, a brief and gentle rain revived me, and I ventured on out to Nativity to see if inspiration would hit. It always does.
My first stop is always the Humble Heart (www.humbleheartfarms.com) booth to stock up on their various goat cheese blends and to check in with the Spells, the proprietors. A running joke for Paul Spell when he sees me is to say, “Sir, would you like to sample some goat cheese?” as if I haven’t been using his product for years now.
“Goat cheese!?!” I exclaimed today, as if I’d never heard of such a thing.
Some snooty Huntsville woman, who was finishing her transaction, looked over at me and said, with a sniff, “I love goat cheese. You should try it some time.”
I smiled, batted my eyes at her, and placed my order as she cluelessly walked away.
I had given up on locally grown kale here in mid-July but one of the growers from southern Tennessee had several fresh bags of Russian kale just perfect for several applications. I had passed a booth with enticing bags of field peas and vowed to return to buy a couple. When I circled around a minute later, there were no peas to be found.
I said, “Didn’t you have peas here a minute ago?”
“Yes,” came the speedy reply. “And a man just bought me out. But I have more in the cooler … if I’d told him I had more, he might have cleaned me out completely!”
Grabbing what I needed, I moved on. I had plenty of peaches and cantaloupe, so I passed those places by.
I was about to leave when I noticed a few small baskets of figs nestled among more prolific produce at a bustling stand toward the back of the market.
It seems a little early for figs, but the fig yield has been sparse for the past few years and maybe my timing is off. I heard myself sigh figs at precisely the moment a woman behind me did the same.
I moved quickly to the stand with mixed emotions.
First, I associate figs with the end of summer and I’m not nearly ready for that. But, also, I didn’t really grow up with figs; they were not a part of my own family’s eating heritage and I was late to that club. It was while working with a theatre in Montgomery that some of the locals and transient actors began to awaken me to the charm of the fig crop. It was there that figs became another of my harbingers of the stages of the summer fruits.
Strawberries. Peaches. Blackberries and Blueberries. Figs. Apples.
Often, when the figs disappear, so has the summer.
I debated whether I was ready to invite portentous figs into my seasonal kitchen. The woman behind me made her move and so I quickly maneuvered to the front of the line. I pointed to the basket I wanted and said, “Aren’t they early?”
Apparently, they are, but they might also have a longer growing season than in the past several years, so my lament for the end of summer might be delayed for several weeks.