Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel swamped by the grime and aggression of urban life (not to mention the deeply depressing nature of ghastly world events – sorry about that dispiriting last post, folks). If you live in the inner city, as we do, you may be faced with a constant barrage of noise from cars, leaf blowers, power tools, garbage trucks, street sweepers and aircraft. And if you live near a dodgy shopping centre, as we do, you may also be treated to various instances of human aggression floating in through your open windows as people pass to and fro. Shouting, spitting, swearing, parents screaming at their kids, kids at each other, young men at young women and vice versa – there are days when city living just becomes too much.
Happily, this urban stress syndrome (I believe it’s official now) can be quickly alleviated by a drive into the country. Last week we spent a night with friends at a house on the Hawkesbury River, only about an hour and a half away from home. Sitting on that verandah early Saturday morning watching the river was the most restorative tranquilliser I could have wished for at the end of a long week.
And even though we couldn’t stay long, the drive home was just as recuperative as the night away. This time, instead of flying past in a hurry as we often do when returning from the country, we decided to take the trip very slowly and stop at many of the roadside food stalls along the way.
I think from now on I am going to try to do this every time we leave the city – apart from filling your fridge or your fruit bowl, there’s something else very satisfying about buying food in this way. It’s partly to do with bringing something of the landscape home with you, and partly to do with closing the gap between you and where your food comes from. Even if the veg is from a van on the side of the road rather than the farm itself, the person selling it to you has usually either grown it themselves or knows the person who did.
There’s a human connection – a warmth – in this passing of basic, simple food from their hands to yours that I find deeply soothing.
It also usually means you’re eating seasonal food – most stalls seem to sell stuff when there’s a glut or oversupply – which promotes a direct connection to the earth and the weather. This is a welcome contrast to the kind of grocery shopping that can tend to make you feel like a cog in a great big industrial food machine.
And lastly, there’s the aesthetic pleasure involved. Lots of the stalls and the signs and the food itself are, I reckon, quite beautiful. Each one has its own particular character and casual, amateur beauty. So much so, actually, that I’m thinking of setting up a separate blog purely for photos of roadside food stalls,where people can send me a pic and I’ll post it. What do you think? I didn’t take my camera away with us last week so these photos were taken on the good old Hipstamatic iPhone app, and I love the result.
Anyway – by the time we made it home from the Hawkesbury we had a dozen fresh eggs, two kilos of beautifully ripe tomatoes, a kilo of borlotti beans and two kilos of figs.
The seasonal, gluttish aspect of this kind of exchange also means your cooking gets a nice kick of rejuvenation too, as what you buy dictates your cooking for a bit. For two people, for example, it takes a fair bit of imagination to get through two kilos of figs in the few days they will last before they are too ripe to use. So this week has been fig city at our place, and we’ve loved it.
Apart from the usual fig halves wrapped in proscuitto as a snack, we’ve made a dessert of figs with spiced yoghurt adapted from that published in SMH Good Living a couple of weeks back (sorry, can’t find a link online!), and then a really delicious dinner in which we adapted this recipe for Maggie Beer’s spatchcock in a fig ‘bath’, replacing the bird with a very succulent bit of quickly roasted pork fillet (from Feather & Bone, natch).
We still have about a dozen very ripe figs left, so this weekend I’m going to throw a few into this salad from last year, and use the rest to make Justin North’s fig preserve published in this week’s Sydney Magazine.
As for the tomatoes, I’ve slow-roasted about half to use in everything, pureed another six or so to throw into a fish curry the other night, and have a big bowl left for salads and whatever else might take our fancy. Next stop, the fresh borlotti beans. I’ll get back to you (or tell me what to do with them!)….
In the meantime, I would love to know if you partake in the highway harvest too? Or have you perhaps even solved your own produce glut this way? If you’re lucky enough to live outside the metropolis, tell me your favourite roadside veg stall or pick-your-own orchard or farm gate stall, and what you love about it.
PS: If anyone knows what ‘moad’ is, and why it should be left in the jar, please enlighten me!