No sooner had we pressed “send” on an e-mail inviting readers to tell us about their most beloved food institutions than enthusiastic submissions began to pour in from all over the country. Many readers raved about their neighborhood co-ops, community gardens and farmers’ markets. Others paid tribute to quirky connoisseurs, one-of-a-kind eateries and various sources of culinary inspiration. Below, a flavorful sample. –The Editors
The best place in New England for corn and tomatoes in August is Pete’s Stand on Route 12 in Walpole, New Hampshire. A family-run operation, the tiny stand is not organic, biodynamic or otherwise fancy. Tourists pull in to the dusty parking lot, only to find themselves elbow to elbow with tiny old Polish women who might be overheard sharing a gulumpke recipe while routing through the green beans, selecting a pound one bean at a time. Pete, whose World War II stories, taunts and bright cackling laughter alternately delighted and infuriated customers for more than twenty years, died nearly a decade ago. Pete’s son Mike and Mike’s son John carry on the family business in a much quieter manner, but they still plant cabbages for the Polish ladies and take orders for bushels of overripe cucumbers from avid picklers. There are no heirloom tomatoes, ramps or fresh herbs at Pete’s Stand. Instead, there are vegetables for the community they are grown in, a relationship between three generations and one stretch of fertile ground, and the memory of Pete bellowing, “No stripping the corn!” in English, Polish and, when appropriate, Ukrainian.
Columbia is home to an amazing market called The Root Cellar. It’s like our farmers’ market, but you can shop there every day. All the produce, meat, cheeses and a variety of other foods and goods are local and organic. It has even expanded into a restaurant with about eight tables, serving breakfast and lunch. Again, everything is locally produced–right down to the ketchup! The Root Cellar has transcended my need for an ethical food shopping experience with its worker food-exchange program, which employs folks by paying them with groceries. As someone who has anxiety attacks when writing checks to any corporate chain, I gladly spend my modest food budget there.
The food at the Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, stands for something much greater. Lancaster and its marketplace were deeded in 1730 from the same plot of land; by the terms of the land grant, city and market together established the common rights of all members of the settlement not only to food but, more broadly, to a realm of civil order where agriculture, commerce, health and sociability all become fundamentally public concerns. Nearly 300 years later, the Central Market remains the heart of community life here. Its survival asserts that with the authority of government comes the responsibility for sustaining the well-being of all citizens. For me, market days are hopeful moments in grim times. When I buy my food at the Central Market, I am returning to the ground on which this city was born, in a sense affirming a centuries-old commitment to a civic life built on the ideals of peace and shared wealth.