Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Alchemists of the Farmers Market


I feel like an alchemist when I visit the Farmer’s Market. Alchemy is an old word for the pursuit of purity in all matters. I am sure the old alchemists hoped to find perfect health, happiness and wisdom by their efforts. Saturday, I visited the market for the first time since January, and I believe all of the vendors brave enough to set up in the barn for a winter market were purveying essentials.

I saw my friend the winemaker inside The Barn at the Farmers Market. She probably had bottled new vintages since I had talked to her personally. She so often has assistants selling at her tasting room now.

I noticed she had a short bottle about half the size of a bottle of wine. I was very enthusiastic because that's the size of a bottle of ice wine, an intensely sweet wine made by squeezing frozen grapes.

“Have you made ice wine”? I asked her.

“Oh no”, she answered. “This is Sherry. It has aged 10 years in the cask”.

“That's a pretty good record because how old is your vineyard? I mean, how many years has it been since you took it over from the Tartan Hill people?”

“Well that was 12 years ago”, she said.

“I’m grateful for a chance to taste the grapes of 2007. Wow”, I said.

She gave me a small pour, and I deeply sniffed the amber liquid. “I probably should say a little prayer before I knock this back”.

“Why,” she asked.

“Because you named your decade old sherry with the word, Amadeus. Ama means love and Deus means god. You have named your sherry ‘Love of God’”.

She is a very devout woman. I follow her on Facebook and so keep up on all the messages from Francis, the Catholic Pope. So she was very excited about this happy accident because she had been thinking of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when she named her sherry. I didn't wait to say a prayer. I knocked it back and washed around my mouth briefly. I felt deep regret when I swallowed because good sherry should not be quickly swallowed.

I like to buy her wine but today I could only afford to sample her wine on Saturday. Hopefully, I have bought enough bottles in the past that it doesn't seem as if I'm freeloading to her. Any day where a man or woman tastes ten year old sherry has to be counted a good day on the Earth. I didn’t need to taste another sip more as the sherry warmed my cockles and drove away that March morning chill.

I said goodbye and went to the next stall to find a baker of bread who bakes his loaves in a wood-fired oven. He allows natural yeasts to leaven his bread, much like how Belgian monks ferment their lambics with yeast of the fields. He had almost sold out of every load and scone he had brought. He had a number of slices of bread on a tray, and he asked me, “Do you like olives”?

“Of course I love olives”!

He sliced a thick slice off a loaf of bread baked with olives inside and held it out to me and said, “Enjoy! Try our freshly churned butter if you'd like to butter it up”. And I buttered up the slice and tasted and Bob was my uncle.

Another customer came up the counter, and he excused himself. “Sorry, have a good day”. I'll see him now and then at Fetch Brewing up in Whitehall, treating his sales team to a round from the taps, gathered at a table of bread, cheeses and charcuterie to enjoy with the beer. By June, he will set up a makeshift kitchen where his cooks will make paninis, including a breakfast sandwich with egg I like very much.

When I walked up, the beekeeper from Shadowlands Honey was offering a woman a small spoon of raw honey. She smiled and said, “No I'm good”. She left his stall. Since he had the small spoon of honey still extended in his right hand, I asked, “May I try”?

“You bet”, he said.

I savored that dollop of creaminess as he shilled. One customer cured her stomach problems by ingesting raw honey daily.  A woman had relief of her arthritis, thanks to honey straight from the hives in White Cloud. A man had experienced reduction in his flu symptoms within hours. He pressed upon me a sheet of medical claims, nothing a food vendor should let the Food and Drug Administration see. I go in for the natural cure every now and then, the tumeric for the arthritis, the garlic for the blood pressure, the cherry concentrate for the gout and the probiotics in kefir for the irregularity.

His enthusiasm made me believe his honey could be my next wonder cure. I could afford only his smallest bottle. I praised him because he had nucs to sell, small honey bee colonies spun off his hives. It takes quite a beekeeper to have nucs to sell when most beekeepers are fighting to keep their business alive, replacing hives that fail in the winter or queens that give up the fight.

Across the aisle from the beekeeper, the man who runs the sugar bush in Shelby was offering invitations. The sap had begun to rise thanks to the longer days of March. He passed me one. “Is it okay to call ahead and visit the sugar bush during the season”.

“Oh, it’s okay. We sell from the house all year round. Next weekend is the only time we offer refreshments and pony rides, so bring the kids”.

“Sounds like a nice time. Maybe we’ll have some fresh snow”.

“Yeah, pour the fresh syrup right on the snow. Nothing better. We’ve been lucky before at our open house”.

I read the brochure, and it had scores of sugar bushes listed, from the Indiana border all the way up to the Upper Peninsula. And I noticed Southern Michigan went first, Northern Lower Michigan went second and the Upper Peninsula went third, with the day going off the first weekend in April. I put the brochure with the handout on raw honey benefits.

A woman I had met at a dinner party last Sunday stood behind a table with two deep bowls, chilled by a trough of ice. At the dinner party, a local chef had made a spread of Mardi Gras dishes, including Jambalaya, and the guests had brought rather impressive bottles of red wine to share. “Did you make up all these delights in the kitchen of the farmer’s market”?

“Yes, I started early this morning with free range eggs I picked up from a farm in Ravenna. So that egg salad couldn’t be more nutritious for you”. She set a few gluten free crackers on a plate and added a generous dollop of the bright yellow salad. “And this is chicken salad made with Amish chicken, so there’s nothing fake in this dish”. And she set three more gluten free crackers on a second plate, added a dollop of the chicken salad, and smiled. I had a little lunch of tapas on gluten free crackers, fancy that. She gave me recipes and the addresses of her farmers and we chatted as she served up little tapas plates for all her visitors. I asked for seconds and thirds because she had plenty of crackers, egg salad and chicken salad, but I stopped at asking if I could take the leftovers home.

As I turned to leave the market, my friend the winemaker waved me over to her stall. She said, “Did you know that Mozart called himself Wolfgang Amadeus Gottlieb Theophilus Mozart”?

“Well, sort of”.

“And, Theophilus means ‘Love of God’”.

“Yep”, I answered.

“And Gottlieb means ‘Love of God’, too”?

“Correctomundo. Well, God Love to be more precise”.

“That is so cool”.

“That’s why we talk. To share cool information”, I said.

“You know what”? She asked.

“You are going to call a wine Theophilus”?

“Two minds, one thought”, and she laughed.

“Rock me, Amadeus”, I said in farewell.
“Rocked me, Amadeus”, she chimed in reply.

The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone, by Joseph Wright, 1771

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