Ciao'd with a milky iced coffee.
Mid-July is upon us. Home gardens burgeon with ripeness; the farmers market even more so. On Sundays, I arrive just before opening time. It's a race to my favorite growers in order to claim first dibs on the emerald-streaked, petite zucchini, glowing red tomatoes - some already dented and oozing juice, dewy lettuces, milky corn and the sweetest, plumpest berries.
To many who toil in corporate jobs, weather commuter traffic, and queue in supermarket cashier lines, a farmer's life seems idyllic. So what if a farmer must rise before the sun and toil until the dark rolls in to cover the fields for the evening? You can manage this every day of the week, the month, the year. It's enticing to dream about dropping the corporate scepter and picking up the mantle of an earthy, some would say more honest, life. Just think. You'd begin the day with a hearty farm breakfast (eggs from your chickens, bacon from your hogs), maybe milk a cow (or 50), stroll through the orchard to check on the peaches' progress. Your management experience will come in handy as you direct the serfs to pluck corn from field one or tomatoes from field two. Then you'll get up and do it all again, albeit without the assurance of a bi-weekly paycheck, health insurance, and a 401K.
Today at the market I couldn't help but catch the scent of agrarian competition rifling through the heady aroma of peaches and the licorice lick of basil. If customers are dueling for the cream of the crop, it's up to the farmers to whip that cream. Some offered samples, others proffered tastes tinged with verbal assurances that their produce was top 'o the crop (some earnest, others amusing, and still others downright flirty). Many stalls were Instagram worthy with their lavish mash-ups of cascading red and green peppers, yellow squashes, and purple-black eggplants. Signs signaled "organic" or "sustainable" while others simply gave the name of the grower. The latter, I guess, for people who regard the aforementioned attributes as hooey.
Every Sunday there seems to be a customer who feels compelled to spew an opinion about a fruit or vegetable variety. "I prefer the Red Top over the SunCrest, don't you? The sugar-texture balance is beautiful. It's a good old-fashioned peach." What?Sometimes, the customer shares her experience baking a torte or cooking a Meatless Monday tagine with last week's bounty. Does anybody simply bake a pie or make succotash anymore? They say food is a conversation-starter but in so many of these exchanges, it's not a conversation at all. The customer puts on her expert face and talks at, not with, the farmer, the bonafide pro. I am always embarrassed by this and impressed with the farmer's composure. I do my part, though. I chime in with an audible sigh and an eye roll.
The farmers market poseurs remind me of the wine snobs sputtering "chocolate notes," "cherry undertones," and "clearly a product of chalky soil" to (at) the guy at BevMo, when we all know they're drinking $12 wines at home like the rest of us peons.
I guess people just like to be heard. But it would be nice if they listened, too. When I purchased the blueberries for these muffins, the farmer told me that tossing the berries in a bit of flour not only prevents them from sinking to the bottom but also helps prevent their blue juice from leaking into the batter. Bonus tip: use a recipe that calls for baking powder rather than baking soda as this will help keep the muffins from turning gray-blue, too. There's a scientific reason for the latter, something about proper PH balance. Maybe I'll look that up as I enjoy my blueberry muffin. Then again, maybe not.
These are straightforward, simple muffins and, at the peak of berry season, that's really all you need. Sprinkling the muffins with sugar prior to baking gives them a pleasant crunch.
Makes 12 muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar, for topping (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease the muffin cups with a little butter or cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. In a small bowl, combine the eggs, butter, milk and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just moistened.
Toss the berries in the flour to coat well. Add to the batter and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Sprinkle with the sugar, if using. Bake until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into one of the center muffins comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan, and let rest 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.