Grim's Grub: Sticky situation resurrected farmers markets with healthy foods
There are many business innovations in the history of food that shaped the way we gather, buy or prepare foods. In some cases it's almost difficult to imagine a world without those innovations.
Take the grocery store, for instance. It seems like a concept so simple that the first one must have just popped up ages ago. A place where all meats, vegetables, fruits and other goods were gathered in one place for the convenience of the buyer.
But that's not true. The grocery store model only really started taking off in the 1700s, and it wasn't until the early part of the 1900s that they had become virtually our only source of small goods shopping.
Today we go to the farmers market for special foods. These foods are special because of their uniqueness, their organics, freshness and sometimes rarity. The history of the farmers market goes back a long way. More than 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians would likely have bought their flours, dates and oils from local producers at tables, under canopies not that different from our local farmers markets. That model persisted for thousands of years.
The first farmers market in the United States opened in 1634 in Boston, with many more to follow. Markets eventually were outcompeted by grocers for much the same reasons that small, hometown stores dry up in communities with big-box stores.
First was the issue of convenience. The market by the oceanfront would likely have fish, imported goods and similar, but the one closer to the outskirts of town would have veggies. The new grocer in town would carry all of the above.
It was also about predictability. Imagine your favorite butcher has retired or is sick and your farmers market no longer carries the bacon you like, but the grocer has suppliers who will keep the shelves packed with bacon no matter what. Furthermore, because of bulk, the grocer may have been able to provide lower prices at the time.
In the early 1900s, except for big cities with very expansive bazaars and markets and likely sea access, the grocer reigned supreme. But in the 1970s, farmers markets began to make a comeback.
Health-conscious dining was beginning to take hold in the global consciousness in the 1970s, and suddenly people were looking for food that was healthy, local and mostly organic. However, in many places there were restrictions on sale of produce and other food goods. In California, such a regulation limiting peach sales to commercial markets resulted in a sticky act of political disobedience.
In 1977, peach harvests were so abundant that growers had too much to sell to grocers, and laws prevented them from seeking alternative sale routes. Fed up, growers hauled their messy, excess and rotting peaches to the lawn of the State Capitol and dumped them there where they suddenly became Gov. Jerry Brown's problem.
With a messy problem staring him in the face, Brown had no choice but to react, and there was really only one reasonable solution. He signed an executive order creating the Certified Farmers Market Program and reminding U.S. citizens of the farmers markets that once were.
Since then, farmers markets and bazaars have taken on a magical, almost romantic image of a place where the most trendy and expensive restaurants buy their best, secret ingredients. Where hosts of cooking shows go to buy the freshest ingredients available, and where average citizens can go to haggle prices, meet the growers and support their community directly with no middle man.
While there's still a little summer left, it would be foolish not to take advantage of the abundant, fresh ingredients at your local markets. Now is the time for the best salsas. The best salads. And the best grilled foods before the temperature drops once again and leaves us all living off of food from cans and produce from hundreds of miles away.
Garden Fresh Sweet Corn Salsa
- Cilantro, to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed/minced
- 2 jalapenos (1 if you want less heat)
- 1 stalk celery
- Juice of ½ lime
- ¾ cup onion
- ¾ cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 cob sweet corn kernels (optionally grilled)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Pinch sugar
Just mix these ingredients and serve with tortilla chips.
Teriyaki Shish Kabobs
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 4 teaspoons grated ginger
- 12 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 2 pounds beef, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes
- 2-3 small zucchini, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch slices
- 1 bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ pound small mushrooms
- 2 cups pineapple or peaches, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes
- Cherry tomatoes (optional)
- Sesame oil
- Salt to taste
In a saucepan, combine the soy sauce, water, honey, vinegar, ginger and garlic and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and overflowing. Combine cornstarch and water in a bowl and whisk it well. Whisk the cornstarch slurry once more before adding it to the simmering sauce. Continue to heat and stir 30 seconds before removing to cool.
Once cool, place the beef into a sealable bag and add just enough marinade to thoroughly surround and coat the beef, then refrigerate overnight. Reserve the remaining marinade in a saucepan.
The next day, prepare your skewers by soaking them if they are wood, then spraying them with nonstick spray. To guarantee proper cooking times, skewer vegetables onto their own skewers, and skewer the beef and fruit on separate skewers. Discard the bag with the marinade. Grill 12-15 minutes over medium heat until beef is done and vegetables are tender. Before removing them from skewers, drizzle the vegetables with sesame oil and salt.
Bring fresh teriyaki to a simmer before serving on the side along with skewers.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.