I’ve decided that I enjoy shopping for food far more than I enjoy cooking it. Having grown up in a family that operated a market, I was raised to appreciate the importance of presenting fresh products to the customer. And so, when I shop, I look for all the signs of freshness and the desired degree of ripeness.
Our store on Chapel Street in New Haven’s Wooster Square, was focused on offering the best quality products to our customers.
From spring to fall, we presented our fresh fruit and vegetables in a lavish display outside the store; something that needed to be recreated each morning. The fruit came first, with the vegetables arrayed on the opposite side. The seasonal fruit was both local and procured from other points of origin. Cherries, grapes and plums from California, peaches from Georgia, other pit fruits from South Carolina, and melons from Florida. Everything had its season, and everyone took advantage of the bounty.
The vegetables were at their peak in summer with almost everything we sold coming from local farmers who sold their produce from trucks at the wholesale market on Spring Street.
So, you see, when I enter a store, I look for products that remind me of the things we sold in our store on Chapel Street. Even though so much has changed with respect to the way we now buy food, I still try to look beyond the packaging to find the little signs of freshness or flavor that are there for us to discover. A ripe melon, for instance, will have a beautiful fragrance, as will a ripe peach. And the leaves on most vegetables will tell you how long it’s been since they were picked.
Angela was always very willing to send me out to scout the fruit and vegetables for our use, but she was always the one who turned it into a tasty dish. Sometimes, at a farm market, for instance, I would be overwhelmed with nostalgia for our store, and end up purchasing far too much. She would look incredulously at the heap of produce and ask if I knew who would be eating all of it, since there was enough for many more than just we two.
So now, I need to keep reminding myself that everything I buy needs to be cooked by me and me alone, and it’s just me that will be eating it.
I go to my friends in Wooster Square Cooks for inspiration and support. They are completely dedicated to the belief that simple, fresh ingredients, well prepared are the essence of a good life.
Spend some time in the kitchen each day and reap the benefit of enjoying a delicious meal with your family, is their mantra. Right now, with the garden bounty beginning to appear on kitchen counters, they are at the peak of their creativity and commitment to the mission of the group; to cook for the enjoyment and as an expression of their belief that preparing a meal for someone is an act of love.
Yet, I find it increasingly more challenging to muster the energy and interest in cooking all the wonderful ingredients that I see and want to buy. Right now, for instance, zucchini blossoms are abundant and begging to be battered and fried, but I haven’t yet cooked them myself. I look with amusement at the countless examples which appear daily on the cooking site and it reassures me that the foods that once were considered ethnic, have not become mainstream.
I’m trying to keep myself focused on the notion that the best food for you is the food you prepare yourself and so I continue to cook several times a week with an eye to some second meals appearing from among the leftovers.
But, I think I will always enjoy practicing the art of being a discriminating food shopper, it’s in my DNA.