By Stephanie Pierson, "Summer of Love,"July/August 2010
Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the fresh peas I’d bought at the farmers’ market that morning, Phoebe, my 17-year-old daughter, wouldn’t have told me (without looking up from shelling them) that she had slept with her boyfriend for the very first time a week and a day ago.
If you think that the “sleeping together” part of that sentence is what matters, I would beg to differ. It is the “farmers’ market” part that resonates. Because what comes from a greenmarket isn’t just tender peas and ripe peaches and sweet melons. It’s what it can all lead to—which is even more tender, sweet and satisfying.
A cherry tomato can open your heart. Homemade red currant jam can make it sing. Ratatouille can forge a lifelong friendship. Bread-and-butter pickles can be all you need to say. Shelling peas can lead to a totally unexpected and welcome candor. (Note to other mothers of teenage daughters: you know how your usually reticent child will tell you things in a car? How it has something to do with the fact that it’s just the two of you and you are both looking straight ahead, not at each other? Well, that’s exactly what happens when you’re shelling peas side by side. And the bonus is that you have the peas you need for Spring Pea & Scallion Soup!)
I discovered two important things the summer we moved to Northern Westchester County in New York State, where farms and orchards are plentiful and the summer bounty is well… beyond bountiful. The first thing was the sheer happiness I experienced the moment I reached the outdoor market. Six kinds of heirloom tomatoes, baby zucchini, bins of still-dewy lettuces, fragrant bunches of bright green basil, purple potatoes, Crayola-colored peppers, yellow watermelons, sweet peaches that—scalded and skinned—revealed orbs of innocent rosy flesh.[pagebreak]
The second thing was that I simply could not say no. So I didn’t. Yes, to a dozen ears of the butter-and-sugar corn. Yes, I’ll take the pear tomatoes for Fresh Pomodoro Pasta, White Beans & Olives. My whole family is crazy about Tomato Gratin so I’ll take those gorgeous heirlooms. Yup, all of them. Two pints of blackberries for... what? Maybe a blackberry cobbler. Or Rustic Berry Tart. Wait, are those yellow raspberries? Ooh—Lemon-Raspberry Muffins!
Well, you get the picture.
What started as enthusiasm turned into obsession. Which worked for me. If I hadn’t come home that morning with bags and bags of fruits and vegetables (most of which needed to be cleaned, cooked, coddled, cared for right away), Phoebe would never have offered to help me shell those peas. And she would never have poured out her heart about Jake and love and relationships. I hugged her and listened to everything she had to say.
She hugged me back and cried. I said only two things to her, both of which I knew to be true: “I know you’ll make the right choices.” And “Hey, don’t cry into the pea pods or they’ll get soggy,” which made both of us laugh. I knew this was a conversation that could be continued.[pagebreak]
It was, in small and large ways, the summer of love. I gave my husband, Tim, the gift of a grilling class given by Chef Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby—two hours of demo, then dinner, plus endless refills of chilled Chardonnay and White Sangria.
Tim’s later success at the Weber led to Phoebe inviting her four best girlfriends over for grilled pizzas, grilled vegetable kebabs and my yummy Watermelon Slush. When they asked about Jake, she blushed.
The summer rolled on. There were weeks when my refrigerator was so full that I could barely close it. I made so much new-potato salad that I brought that, along with leftover steak and roast peppers, to my 90-year-old neighbor, who rarely ventured out. I had so many ripe tomatoes and so much guilt that I couldn’t bring myself to go for a swim with my good friend Alexis. So she came over and together we made enough Garden Tomato Sauce for her family and mine. I taught my Phoebe and my niece how to make a basic vinaigrette for salad.
Giving and getting and sharing and savoring. Fruits, vegetables, friendships, love. It’s all mixed up like a big tossed salad. Fresh from the farmers’ market.
Stephanie Pierson’s latest book, What to Do When No One Has a Clue (co-authored with Barbara Harrison), was published by Clarkson Potter in May. She contributes to The Atlantic and other magazines.