Today was by far the crappiest day of the year. Is it rain? Is it snow? I don't know, but it's COLD AND WET. By unfortunate circumstance it was also the trial run of Wintermarket, an event organized by Jill Slater and Robert La Valva of New Amsterdam Public, a non-profit organization aiming to convert the now-abandoned Fulton Fish Market into a year-round eventually- indoor market featuring only local purveyors. They're currently in the midst of talks with the city. The other option under consideration is a "luxury" condo building. What a novel idea.
I was so excited with the prospect of this development that I immediately signed up to be a volunteer. I was hoping they'd allow me to assist with the Market Meal, but they assigned me to greet guests at the entrance instead. I guess beggars (volunteers/non-cooks) can't be choosers. When I woke up this morning, the gray outside my window and the sound of howling wind and pattering rain (snow?) didn't dampen my excitement. It's a small part, but part of a bigger whole, to be involved and serve this vision in some way. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It's a lofty thing to aspire to, but I it's possible when you live your truth passionately.
The market was not at as grand a scale as I had imagined, and set up outdoors for the time being. But there were more than enough purveyors to talk to and learn from and, of course, more than enough yummy food to taste and contemplate. We didn't know what kind of crowd to expect due to the inclement weather, but by noon it was completely packed, toe-stepping included.
The foragers from Vermont were by far one of the most interesting. They offered wild ginger, Jerusalem artichokes, daylily tubers, and truffles. The daylily tubers tasted a bit like ginseng and the wild ginger was potent! There was a chef from the New England Culinary School, Tom Bivins, who created a completely unique and flavorful salad with these ingredients. And he was a really nice guy to boot.
My most enjoyable conversation took place with a lovely man named Jerry Henkin, who had a table full of unusual nuts on display. He's part of the Northern Nut Growers Association, an organization devoted entirely to cultivating nut trees. Some nuts I've seen for the first time were black walnut, turky nut, shellbark and shagbark hickory nut (my favorite) and butternut. He also had some interesting nut-shelling instruments on hand. You can see one (and Jerry) in action in the picture. Since I don't have one of these nifty gadgets, he suggested smashing two big rocks together to open the the sample shagbark hickory nuts he gave me. He also suggested I share them with the squirrels.
Most vendors happily dished out good portions of samples including the foraged salad, seasonal cookies made from wild ginger, fresh ricotta ice cream from NJ, a sauerkraut & pork stew with homemade sauerkraut and pork from Flying Pigs Farm in upstate NY, raw honey tastings, seaweed stew, and scrumptious slow roasted lamb sandwiches with local cress & cranberry honey compote. There was also a day-fresh egg vendor from NJ, Wild Edibles selling $5 fried oysters that I got suckered into, and stone ground organic flours.
The grand finale for me was a sighting of Mario Batali in wellies and shorts, and THE BEST SANDWICH I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE - a simple pork sandwich with salsa verde on a moist ciabatta-like roll. My apologies to M and D for the picture of the pig, but that's where my food came from and I must own it.
At the end of the day it felt like I shared something with a community with common goal - to get back to the basics, to connect to the earth somehow while in this urban environment, to learn from the people that produce the food we put into our bodies, to eliminate the fat middle man. The next step is to figure out how to move forward so that everyone can reap the benefits, not just the well-to-do. Education is the word.