Hail The Summer Solstice!
As the solstice approaches (this coming Friday, 7:59 p.m.), summer fruits are trickling into the marketplace.
Local cucumbers (yes, it's a fruit, not a vegetable, though we tend to treat it as the latter, just as we do the tomato) could be found at both the RTM (Benuel Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce) and a couple of stands at Headhouse Square (A.T. Buzby, among others). Benuel just had kirby cucumbers (the type that makes the best pickle), while Buzby had both kirby and traditional salad cucumbers. I used the salad cuke yesterday as a garnish to chicken and cold noodles in sesame sauce; the kirby cukes, which were fairly large, have been quartered and, since last night, have been sitting a brine with lots of smashed garlic and coriander seeds, well on their way to becoming kosher pickles. (By this morning they had reached the "new pickle" stage; I figure they'll be halfies by tonight.)
In the realm of fruits that we think of as fruits, Buzby also had the first Jersey blueberries of the season, $3.50 a pint, iirc. Also at Headhouse, Noel Margerum featured pretty good tasting sweet cherries, $3.25/pint; another vendor (sorry, didn't write it down) had a semi-sweet cherry that I tried and thought a bit on the tasteless side.
We're approaching the end of the strawberry season, but fine examples can still be had. The $6 quart I purchased from Culton Organics at Headhouse were particularly good: the best I've had this season, large, but deep red, sweet all the way through and strong in strawberry flavor. Culton also has a huge crop of tunnel-grown apricots; the traditional orchard variety are still a few weeks away.
Over at the RTM, Earl Livengood has got some tasty, freshly dug new potatoes. They were selling for $2.50 a half-pint, $3.20 a pint and $4.50 a quart. The pint weighs in at about three-quarters of a pound, so the effective price is about $4.25 a pound, pricey for potatoes, but when you can get them fresh dug, a luxury worth trying. (Ben Kauffman was selling red new potatoes at $2 a pint.) All the farm vendors at RTM (Livengood, Kauffman and Fair Food Project) and at Headhouse featured peas both in and out of the shell.
To go with those potatoes and peas, I splurged and purchased a wild Alaskan king salmon filet from John Yi at $22.95/pound. It was delicious, especially when gently slow-roasted as recommended by eGullet poster Vadouvan. A classic early summer meal.
Even though the salmon season has been underway about a month in Alaska, prices remain very high. Copper River king just couldn't be had here; in Seattle the going price has been $40 a pound. Copper River sockeye is considerably less pricey, and a delicious fish in its own right, but my fish mongers haven't had it yet, though Whole Foods has it for $21.99, but the end of the Copper River season is upon us; other runs will replace it and the price should go down, we hope. What's keeping the prices elevated is the closing of the California salmon season this spring because stocks are so low. Reduced commercial catches are also foreseen in Oregon and Washington, so Alaska (and British Columbia) are the only wild salmon games around, and prices have rising in response to market conditions. My advice: learn to love bluefish. (Taras Grescoe wrote a recent op-ed article in the New York Times entitled Sardines With Your Bagel? that I highly recommend.)
Quick notes. Birchrun Hills is offering veal as well as cheese. The ground veal was selling for $7 when I last checked two weeks ago. . . . Broccoli is much in evidence at the markets, cauliflower can't be far behind. . . . Didn't check this week, but last week the Hass avocados at Iovine's were selling for $1 each, Vidalia onions 50-cents a pound. . . . Time for limeade. Iovine's featured some juicy limes with heft at 10 for a buck; lemons remain relatively dear at 3/1$. . . . Hardshell crabs $2 each or $19.95/dozen at John Yi.
Musical stalls at RTM
A deal is in the works to fill out what had been Dutch Country Meats. Although negotiations are continuing, there's an agreement in principle for Benuel Kauffman to expand his produce stand across the aisle and take over the walk-in refrigerator that served the butcher, and for the manager of the Dutch Eating Place, Roger Miller, to buy Fisher's Soft Pretzels from Paul Fisher and move it to the remainder of the Dutch Country Meats space. Fisher would then expand his candy and sweets business to the part of the stall now occupied by his pretzel bakery.
A cheese steak operation won't necessarily replace Rick's when he vacates October 31. RTM GM Paul Steinke would like to place a more traditional market purveyor in the space, maybe even an expanded Fair Foods Farmstand. The idea, he said, would be to showcase the market as a venue for purchasing food for home consumption.
The Reading Terminal Market is emulating the city's "no questions asked" campaign to get residents to turn in illegal firearms. Only the market wants your shopping bags.
Steinke abhors seeing his regular market shoppers carrying cloth bags advertising competitive food vendors, such as Whole Foods. So he and the merchants are trying to do something about it. Beginning today, shoppers who turn in cloth bags from the other venues will receive a replacement bag with the RTM logo and $5 in Market Money to be spent with RTM merchants. The "No Questions Asked" promotion is limited to the first 200 customers who bring their bags to the RTM office, located up the stairs across from Tootsie's Salad Express. An ad campaign touting the program starts this week in the Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, Citypaper, South Philly Review and Weekly Press.