Eat in the here and now

August 1, 2010 

I was at the State Farmer's Market in Raleigh the other day buying my umpteenth pint of blueberries (they are the nectar of the gods) and talking with a farmer.

A young guy walked up to us. Exasperated, he asked us who at the market would have broccoli and celery.

The farmer and I exchanged a look that said: "Where does he think he is, an automatic-mister-drenched supermarket produce bin?"

The farmer told him that no one at the market would have those vegetables. He looked bewildered, so I gave him a brief lecture on North Carolina's growing seasons.

As we stood dripping in 90-degree heat, I explained that broccoli is a spring and fall crop here. In hot weather, it bolts like dandelions.

And celery, well, it just doesn't work. A community supported agriculture farm I belonged to tried growing it once. The stalks came out the size of No. 2 pencils.

"I don't like North Carolina," the guy whined. "I need to live in California or somewhere where it's 75 all the time. Or Colorado. I'd like to ski to my mailbox."

He still didn't seem to get why there was no broccoli or celery to be had, and appeared wearied by our backwardness.

There we were, at the height of summer, surrounded by peaches, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, collard greens, blackberries, melons, butter beans, eggplant, squash, okra and who knows what else. And he wanted some stupid broccoli and celery?

I wanted to yell: "Look around. Get over it. Eat a tomato."

Instead, I summoned my inner hospitable Southern belle (she was buried pretty deep, but I found her) and pointed at the other building. I told him it was remotely possible that someone there might have broccoli and celery, but they wouldn't be locally grown. Still baffled, he said, "What would be the point?"

People like that annoy me.

Eating out - far out

I had to deal with a lot of those sorts when I was an office-bound editor, before the influx of non-Tar Heels tilted the culinary balance. There aren't any decent bagels, callers with Brooklyn accents would moan. No good pastrami.

The callers' implication was that we benighted hicks wouldn't know good food if it ran over us with our John Deeres. Plus a nagging fear that we slip roasted possum into our casseroles.

I finally cracked one day. Yet another angry Yankee complained about the South's lack of round, rock-hard bread products, and I suggested she try a nice, fluffy Southern biscuit with some butter and jam. She carried on as if I'd told her to chew on her mattress.

They're the anti-locavores. My mother was one, preferring to eat as far away from the sources of her food as possible. (Except for our backyard garden, which was grown mostly out of frugalness.)

When traveling, she would eat only at chain restaurants. Fried clam strips at Howard Johnson's was one of her favorites. As an adult, I found out that clams don't come in strips. I could not imagine what those stringy things actually were and vowed to eat only identifiably shaped seafood.

So, I hope my misplaced friend will dine from his own backyard and remember: When in Rome, don't look for broccoli in July, and pickled okra makes a great garnish for a bloody Mary.

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