The Late Bird Gets the Worm…er, Free Goodies
I’ve worked a few farmers markets over the years. My longest stint was at a stand in the Allentown Fairgrounds Market, a large indoor three days week affair. I learned a lot from that experience, the most valuable lesson being that it pays to be late to farmers markets.
Now, we all know that the old adage claims the early bird gets the worm, but that’s not entirely true. Many farmers markets start slashing prices about an hour or two before closing. As the farmers start thinking about breaking down their tables and repacking their crates, they’d rather unload the remaining produce through a few ridiculously cheap transactions than put those highly perishables veggies back in the truck. I could recant many a funny tale from the Allentown market about patrons lining up beside the stand, three or four deep, oogling a pint of this or that, but waiting for the cry “Half price! Everything’s half price!” Once that shout rang out, the proverbial free-for-all ensued with more than a few smack downs over a particularly juicy item. Strangely, it was usually the little old ladies that were in the thick of it!
At the Headhouse Farmers Market on Sunday, I was once again shouting “Eggplants, three for a dollar!” (previously priced a buck apiece) and “Get your fresh herb mixed bunches for a buck!” (a third of the original price for the separated herbs) and so on and so forth. Now, don’t you all go thinking this inside scoop means you should only show up at the last minute at the market and gobble up the goodies for real cheap. There is a downside — namely, the produce has usually been picked over and you’ll have to accept a few bruised fruits and past-peak veggies. Plus, it’s important to buy at full price to support the farmers who no doubt would prefer to turn a profit.
But moving past the merits of full price and cheap, there’s a whole ‘nother category: FREE! This category is available mostly to those of us manning the stands. Once all the tables are broken down and the trucks pulled up for loading, an exchange of, “I have way too many of X left, you want some?” and, “Hey, yeah, I’ll take X, but you’ve gotta take some Y or Z from me cuz I can’t be bothered to take them home,” begins taking place. Thus it was that Flat Rock Farm, another great Philadelphia urban farm, so generously gifted me with an abundance of fresh herbs, among other things.
Since I already had a bunch of basil from Weavers Way Farm, I was practically able to roll in the heavenly scents of sage, marjoram, oregano and two kinds (purple and green) of basil. I decide there was only one thing to do to use up this herbal bounty, considering how much I had and how steady a supply I have between my own herbs and the farm. It was time to begin brewing herb infused oils. These may very well be my homemade Christmas gifts this year.
This simple technique allows the discerning chef to extend the flavors of the summer season the way a hoop house extends the industrious farmer’s growing season. Once made, the oils retain the fresh and powerful flavors of the herbs for months. Use some basil-infused oil on a nice ripe tomato in December and you’ll swear it was July. And the palette of these oils is limited only by your imagination. Use the same “brewing” method for any number of combinations.
Who’s got a good combination to share? And what dishes have you enhanced with herb-infused oils? C’mon, share the love!
1 c. canola, sunflowers, light olive, soy or any other mild oil
1/2 c. chopped fresh herbs*
*Use any single herb or mix of herbs. For this particular post, I used sage, marjoram, basil and oregano. You can also add lemon zest or garlic for additional flavor.
Wash and dry herbs thoroughly. Remove leaves from stems and roughly chop to release the natural oils. Place herbs in the bottom of a mason jar or clean empty spagghetti sauce jar. Add oil and seal tightly. Swirl oil and herbs to combine a bit. Let jar sit for 4 to 5 days at room temperature.
Once herbs have infused the oil over several days, strain oil through fine mesh seeve to remove herbs. Return oil to jar and seal tightly again. Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months. Use as you would any other oil, but expect some wonderful extra flavor.
(makes 1 cup of oil)