Festhalle Farmer’s Market

What a Market Should Look Like

While the farmer’s market season is technically over for the year at the Festhalle in Cullman, Alabama, the authorities at Parks and Rec have been convinced to let farmer’s still sell after the official end of the season–for free. The strange thing about this early closure is that anyone who has ever grown any greens, knows this is the prime season for them in this area. Cool weather and abundant moisture make for the best greens, especially collards.

Case in point. This past Saturday was both cold and windy, but our favorite seller was there early in the morning with an assortment of greens. It had been so warm up to this point that he even had tomatoes! Best of all he had what is said to be the largest timber framed structure in the Southeast all to himself.

We loaded up on tomatoes, as we have greens left over from the week before. Then, right behind us, was the brand new tribute to our German roots. A Weihnachtspyramide, and a big one at that.

That’s a Christmas Pyramid

Not satisfied with having the largest timber framed building around, the Mayor and Parks and Rec went straight to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Deutschland, and commissioned this gigantic ornament. It even has a carved replica of Colonel Cullman on the second level from the top. Not only does it dwarf the gazebo behind it, it is documented to be the largest Christmas Pyramid in the US.

Three big guys actually came over from the Erzgebirger to assemble this thing, although while I was reading a version of this story in German, Google translate kicked in, and said there were “woodpeckers” coming over to assemble it. If the woodpeckers looked across the parking lot, this is what they saw on the side of the office for the Festhalle.

Use the ATM so Farmer’s can Get Cash

Judging by the size of them, I would say that they agreed with this sentiment.

The End of Tomato Season

Gather Ye Rosebuds, etc

Make hay while the sun shines, the old saying has it. Our Festhalle Farmer’s Market is down to one seller of fresh tomatoes, and it is time for the frugal to put away food for our admittedly mild winter (This farmer starts his tomato plants every year in January). Our current count is eleven quarts of tomatoes, and four pints as well. Our intention is to add more every weekend until the first freeze.

My specialty is jams and preserves–the serious canning is done by Melanie Jane. Her mother, Agnes Olga, was such a planner that she had index cards with the exact quantities of every vegetable to preserve written on them, to prepare the family for the winter. We just preserve whatever we can.

That giant twenty two quart pressure cooker/canner was actually a gift from a colleague at a college I taught at years ago. He literally was the foreign language department there, as he taught both French and German. Most of my vocabulary of German obscenities came from him as well. There is nothing like a well rounded scholar.

Zen and the Art of the Southern Tomato Sandwich

Mayo, Creole French Bread, Homestead Heirloom Tomato, and a pair of Buddhist cookbooks. Is this why Bodhidharma went to China?

Robert Pirsig, author of the fascinating and riveting book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, literally had a breakdown trying to answer the question of, What is quality? If only he had known about a really good tomato sandwich. This three ingredient sandwich is the equivalent of Southern Zen–if done properly. Here’s how I make it.

Ingredients

Heirloom Tomatoes, preferably home or locally grown

Sliced and Toasted Creole French Bread

Mayonnaise (I will learn to make this one day, with the hope that I don’t become as obsessed by it as Julia Child did)

Simple? Yes, but everything depends on the quality of the ingredients. Most generic recipes sound like they are stuck in the 1970’s. Here’s the usual.

Ingredients

Supermarket Tomatoes

White Sliced Bread (the kind that comes in a plastic bag)

Mayonnaise

So much is wrong here, that it is difficult to know where to start. I will begin with the low hanging fruit. I had students tell me that they didn’t like tomatoes, after I brought up this controversial sandwich. My immediate question was, Have you ever had a tomato that didn’t come from the supermarket? The answer was always no.

The reason for their response is that essentially all supermarket tomatoes, despite their appearance, are green. The practice of gassing tomatoes with ethylene became commonplace in the 1970’s, and ethylene is a gas that turns green tomatoes red, even though they are still completely unripe. Try a slice of that on your BLT, and tell me what you think of tomatoes.

As far as bread in a plastic bag goes, first, buy as few things packed in plastic as you can. That white bread is practically embalmed anyway, considering how many preservatives it has in it. Topped with a good tomato that sandwich will still be good, as another major ingredient of that white bread is air, which is pumped into the dough.

There are all sorts of superfluous additions to this sandwich, but I only consider three to be appropriate.

Salt

Olive Oil

Fresh Basil

If you want to add something like avocado, knock yourself out. Just don’t call it a tomato sandwich. Your zen is all gone. One of my favorite zen riddles has to do with the master who asked a novice the meaning of zen. The novice said that all was emptiness. The master just grabbed a stick, and gave the student a giant whack, which made the student really angry.

The master just said, “If all is emptiness, then were does your anger come from?” Enough said.