Bittersweet Bon Voyage

Walking a farmers market come fall is a completely different experience than during the summer days.

STORY BY NICOLE SPRINKLE
PHOTO BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF

Seattle’s long-tailed summers that stretch into September are never taken for granted. We know better than to count on them, but when they hang on past Labor Day, weeks after our vacations have wound down and been relegated to memories on smartphones and Instagram accounts, we understand that we got away with something extraordinary.

It’s no coincidence that our neighborhood farmers markets end in October, one last bountiful blast, a bittersweet bon voyage to months of unremitting sun and its ripened rewards. Walking the market in September and October is a completely different experience than doing so in summer.

When I think back to the first weeks of the market, I recall a slower step, a quiet mindfulness as my eyes take in the first of the Rainier cherries and their light-bottomed blush; peaches soft and almost purring in my palm; and tiny, fragile lettuces, startled to have made it there. Neighbors bob into each other, like untethered floats in a pool, looking and touching the produce, taking their time to inhale the musky skin of tomatoes and undress the tops of corn, silky hairs giving way to kernels that reveal either naked perfection or darkened rot.

We walk the rows, seeing whose prices are best, whose berries the plumpest, as we smile, unannoyed, at mothers who absentmindedly block paths with strollers. The days are long, and there are dozens of meals to still be had on balconies, in backyards, on rooftop decks, or wherever there’s a patch of grass and sunlight.

But as we segue into late summer — that unique Seattle shoulder season, before the first whiff of pumpkin spice salutes us — our early ease turns to urgency.

At my neighborhood market in Queen Anne, I circle the nearby blocks, with predatory pointedness, hunting for a parking spot and then hurrying in. The warmth of the sun is less soporific now. I am more on a mission because I know the summer days are numbered.

I load my bag with squash and zucchini — to be lightly breaded with panko, salt, and pepper and placed flat-faced on the grill. There will be many nights in the next few weeks, of pesto-making from aromatic basil at its peak, of homely heirloom tomatoes split open and draped over thick slabs of mozzarella, their tangy, sweet juice commingling with savory olive oil of cucumbers and radishes sliced over pert leaves of lettuce.

Everyone has woken up from the early summer reverie and is going about the business of ending it, walking and shopping at a different rhythm, feeling a pinch of wistfulness at the increasingly smaller piles of corn on vendor tables. The dahlias are still splendid, if slightly limper, and the nights blaze on but for a muted breeze that sends us searching for a wrap to throw over our shoulders as we finish a dish of berries sweetened with fresh cream or smothered with sugar in a syrupy cobbler.

You’re not sure what awaits you the next week at the market, and what will be gone. You ask the farmers, hoping like soothsayers they’ll make promises, but instead they shrug their shoulders.

You’re both invested in these next few weeks, too, but all you have now is this single night, this plate of food, its shock of freshness, and a still fierce sunset. And you do your best to make that enough. Because it is. It really is.


Nicole Sprinkle is the former Food & Drink Editor at Seattle Weekly. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Cherry Bombe, Seattle magazine, and more. She works for Sasquatch Books.

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