This summer, or perhaps I should say “last summer” since it seems to have already come and gone, New Yorkers missed out on several classic, quintessential summertime sensations. Weather-wise, for most of June and July it rained, and then there were all of four decently steamy summer afternoons – the sort that make you long to be poolside with a girly cocktail – before we plunged straight into autumn (and more rain)! Last week, as I cooked at Stuart Weitzman for the fashionista crowd gathered for Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out, I noticed that all the gays and gals traipsing up and down Madison Avenue suddenly had a jacket or heavy sweater draped over one arm. It’s official: the seasons have changed, and I’m afraid New Yorkers are destined to walk around at parties with our outermost layers in the crook of an elbow (both hands busy, carefully balancing a glass of wine, and if you’re lucky, a Dinner Belle catered canapé!) from now ‘til May.
I was thinking about this – the summer that slipped away – as I killed time wandering through downtown Brooklyn yesterday. My eventual destination was Vinegar Hill House, a new-ish dining spot with a super-seasonal rotating menu from the same team of genius mixologists who brought us Freemans. I was dragging my Snotty McSnobster dining buddy off the island to taste test this lauded outer borough bistro with me, but of course, as he doesn’t “do subways” Snobby was late. So I took a stroll.
And wouldn’t you know, on the corner of Court and Montague, among the mammoth architectural landmarks, I came across the Court Street Farmers’ Market. It’s a smallish, year-round affair that sets up every Thursday and caters mostly to a neighborhood crowd. It was the end of the day, so most booths were looking pretty sparse as vendors sat tapping their feet, ready to pack up and call it quits before the looming thunderstorm.
One booth, however, was hopping. At the very end of the row, a small white tent was swarmed with at least two dozen people. I walked towards it wondering what the hubbub was about. Perhaps a celebrity Brooklynite buying organic greens? The ghost of Heath Ledger perusing his old haunts? The truth, as it turned out, was far less glamorous, but for a FOOD Maven like me, equally exciting. One of summer’s most celebrated sensations was taking center stage!
Heirloom Tomatoes. Table upon table upon table of beautiful, curvy, rainbow colored tomatoes, sat there like a blast from the past, forgotten artifacts from the season that nearly slipped away. They were grouped by color from pearly white through nearly black, from tiny and speckled to gargantuan and bulbous, each about to burst through its Crayola colored tie-died splotched skin. More than a dozen hand-written placards pronounced exotic sounding names like, Mr. Stripey, Green Zebra, and Black Bell, that prompted more than one passerby to ask, “But they’re tomatoes, right?”
This season, an heirloom tomato blight destroyed much of the crop on many farms in Upstate New York, making tomatoes, usually as plentiful as muggy August afternoons, a scarcity this year. Even at this market, only this one stand, Wilklow Farms from Highland, New York, had managed to keep their crops blight free. At their booth, the frenzied solitary vendor, a college-aged woman with intense dreadlocks, stood madly slicing samples and dropping them into the outstretched hands of the crowd, like a UN aid worker handing out packets of rice in a famine zone. I had to elbow my way into the line and wait for the two old Jamaican ladies in front of me to finish (they were determined to try every single tomato, proclaiming each one better than the last), but when I finally got my one, brilliantly colored sliver of an “Orange Pineapple” tom, I couldn’t help but grin. In the chilly autumn wind of a Brooklyn evening, it still tasted exactly like summer.
I ended up buying a half dozen, even though Snotty would mock me for bringing a plastic bag of groceries into a restaurant. It was worth his ridicule to play bag lady for the evening, just so I could wake up this morning and make a sunny tomato omelet for breakfast, a simple, stacked caprese salad of heirlooms, buffalo mozzarella, purple and green basil, fleur de sel, and extra virgin olive oil for lunch, and an artichoke and tomato marmalade I plan to smear atop my pork loin this evening. If you’re lucky enough to find tons of toms at a market near you, smuggle ‘em up before the first frost kills ‘em off – in two or three weeks at the most – and resign yourself (deliciously, if not begrudgingly) to overcoats, pumpkin risotto and finally, to fall.