Summer, like each of the seasons, has its own enchantments… “abundant sunshine,” lots of evening light. We can be outside morning, noon, and night without the burden of outerwear. We have the pleasure of flowers, shrubs, and trees that give us shade. If we’re lucky enough, we can read on the beach, take a boat ride, go on a road trip. And then there is the simplest of summer pleasures, the farm market.
I’m so glad to see the burgeoning interest in locally, sustainably grown food as weekly farm markets and CSAs pop up everywhere. Especially glad to see younger people choosing to farm. It is an extraordinary commitment. I learned that decades ago, just after graduating from college, when I met a couple in their 50s who owned a fourth-generation family dairy farm. They never took summer vacations, or any vacations at all. The cows had to be fed, the land tended, the vegetables grown, harvested, and “put by” for winter. Jim and Dorothy also cared for Jim’s aging parents. If they ever felt beleaguered or cheated or resentful, they kept it to themselves. In fact, they always seemed to me to be very happy people—the kind of people whose ready smile always lights up a room. Still, I always wondered if they didn’t sometimes just want to stop for a while. Every time I see a bountiful display of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, or stop at our favorite dairy farm, I think with gratitude—and that memory of Jim and Dorothy—of the relentless hard work and devotion required to put food on our tables.
When I was nine years old, we moved from the city to live the American dream in the suburbs. Our particular development wasn’t countrified by any means—it was full of split-level brick houses which in turn were full of Baby Boom kids. There were new people and new experiences at every turn. One of the first, and best, was our first trip to Strite’s Orchard—the “fruit farm,” as my mother called it.
As it turned out, that visit was the first of many, too many to even guess at, over my childhood and the 49 years of my parents’ married life. The Strite family has farmed there continuously since 1843. It is one of Pennsylvania’s designated “Century and Bicentennial Farms. ” Each year, Mom stocked our larder with strawberry, grape, and plum jams, jellies, and preserves; pickles; Southern-style spiced peaches and pears; and, of course, quarts and quarts of sauce made with Strite’s tomatoes. Yes, there were hours and hours in the hot kitchen of a house that wasn’t air-conditioned for much of that time. Yes, I had to help. And yes, it was a love-hate endeavor for a kid who would just as soon have been hanging out with friends at the pool. But it was so worth it! Strite’s provided strawberries for shortcake in late spring, blueberries for muffins and peaches for cobbler in July, Early Transparents for summer apple pies and McIntosh and Winesaps for the fall; and, finally, the pumpkins for Thanksgiving.
Strite’s repertoire has expanded widely over time, and the array of fruits and vegetables has grown as the demographics changed and the American palate became more attuned to the food of other cultures. Many of us remember a time when green bell peppers were the only ones you could buy. Today, Strite’s pepper selection is a veritable rainbow, some with a pretty impressive heat factor.
The long, flat Italian beans are my favorite Strite’s crop of all. They virtually scream “Summer!” and “Childhood!” to me. Their preparation defies all current culinary advice on cooking vegetables. Put them in boiling salted water with a clove or two of garlic and cook them for a LONG TIME, till they’re very tender and a dull, army green. Drain and toss them generously in good olive oil and salt, pair with an Italian tomato salad (tomatoes, olive oil, basil or mint, and salt) and you’ve got dinner. Add an ear of fresh corn if you have one. Heavenly.
So, Strite’s, thank you. I won’t say how long I’ve been enjoying the “fruits” of your labor… let’s just say it’s a long, long time, and that your commitment to feeding us so well is deeply, deeply appreciated.