July 07, 2008
We were up in Beacon this weekend with a group of friends, staying at Ben's mother's house. It was rainy, rainy and warm, on Saturday, and then sunny on Sunday. While the rest of the group slept on Sunday morning, I showered and quietly padded out of the house to walk down to the Beacon Farmer's Market. To get there, you have to walk to the train station, and go through its dank underground passage that smells distinctly of old urine and wet concrete. But when you emerge on the other side, you see the sparkling blue of the Hudson River, and a small collection of shaded stands. Happy dogs and small children and a few other early risers walk amongst the offerings.
I could see boats bobbing up and down in the dock, and the handsome legs of a person who'd climbed to the roof of Pete Seeger's boathouse on an old wooden ladder. A pierced, kerchiefed woman was selling mushrooms: frilly maitake the color of slate, obscene-looking King Trumpets, and a tufty fungus called, appropriately, Lion's Mane from which she'd pinched off small pieces for customers to sample. It looked like spun sugar and tasted like the earth. She also had quart containers of chanterelles, at $50 a pound. She apologized for the price. To me, those mushrooms will always be called Pfifferlinge, their German name. I know there will be people who see that name and roll their eyes and think it's proof, yet again, of German's reputation as a difficult, homely language, but to me Pfifferling is a beautiful, whimsical word and so perfectly suited to a little golden mushroom that tastes of nuts and loam. I didn't buy any.
Further along, a stout man selling creamed honey and maple sugar and beef jerky and pickled vegetables and yogurt made by two German men in Vermont told me about his 3 million honey bees, how they're strong and safe and unaffected by colony collapse disorder. He's strict about who he lets on his property (hardly anyone) and near his bees (no one) and hasn't had a single sick bee or disappearing one, for that matter. His honey was the only thing he sold not affected by the rising gas and oil prices.
A blonde woman and her young daughter manned a stand piled high with fruit: sweet and sour cherries, raspberries and blueberries, and then - far more intriguingly - gooseberries and red currants. When I was little, I spent a day every week visiting the elderly father of a family friend in the outskirts of East Berlin. We'd brave the mile-long border traffic and the grave stares of East German border police and drive to the village of Brieselang, where he lived in a small, cool house that smelled appealingly musty. His backyard was a sylvan paradise for a city child, with a table for outdoor meals and a little shed that made a wonderful spot for hide and seek. There were fat and juicy snails to play with, and sometimes a darting rabbit to run after. Towards the back of the garden, thick brambles grew wildly, and it was back there that we picked berries, fat gooseberries and sour currants that we'd sugar and eat with cream once we'd driven back to West Berlin at the end of the day. In America, they're tough to find and expensive when you do. I bought a container of red currants for the exorbitant price of $5.00, but sometimes you simply have to pay a certain price for a memory. Not often, but every once in a while.
At another stand groaning with breads - strange ones studded with fruits and gilded with cheese, and more austere baguettes and whole grain loaves - I bought a floury ciabatta as long as my arm, and plucked a bialy flecked with pinkish onions and small poppy seeds from a basket for breakfast. I read The Bialy Eaters earlier this year and found myself strangely unmoved by Mimi Sheraton's professions of love for what had always seemed to me to simply be a dusty, stale-ish bread that was infinitely less desirable than a plump, shiny bagel. But as I strolled back to the house chewing on that bialy, away from the river breeze and the mushrooms and the honey farmer, with red currants in a bag dangling from my wrist, and flour powdering my shirt from the ciabatta pinned under my arm, I suddenly understood its appeal. Agreeably chewy and faintly blistered in spots, the onions providing just the right amount of subtle flavor to the plain, straightforward crumb, I felt there could be no better breakfast. Who knew that the best bialys can be found in Beacon?
We drove back to the city in the afternoon, when the sun started throwing long fingers of light across the highway. We ate our ciabatta on the balcony, using it to soak up the remains of a tomato salad, and to float in bowls of zucchini soup. We spooned up the red currants, sugared and doused with cream. I thought of home, that one and this one and the others, and felt anchored, present in this world, for the first time in months.