During the summer, I find myself becoming a bit of a farmstand snob.
I shop for groceries wherever is convenient, and I tend to rotate through all the city’s stores – from Big Y to Stop & Shop, WalMart to Price Rite, Hampton Ponds Market and soon Aldi. I find that different fresh products have different shelf lives at each store and I buy accordingly.
I do not, however, do what my grandmother did: visit every grocery store on Saturday mornings. I recall her making a day of grocery shopping when I was young. She would start early and go to every market in Westfield to get what she needed that was on sale at each store. If Edwards had cold cuts for the best price, she would go there, then hit up Food Mart for fish, Western Beef for meats, etc. and so on. She would spend hundreds of dollars and come home so tired that my grandfather always made Saturday night dinner – which typically consisted of steak, French fries and broiled tomatoes.
If it was summer, those tomatoes were thick and juicy and locally grown. He would slice them and sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly grated cheese (usually parmesan, sometimes Fontina or mozzarella or a combination thereof), then broil them until the cheese got tan and bubbly. Caution was of the utmost importance when eating one of Pop’s broiled tomatoes because someone would always burn their mouth because they were so delicious that they didn’t want to wait til they cooled a bit.
As an adult, when summertime comes, I remember those tasty tomatoes and skip the produce aisles no matter what store I’m in because there are simply too many great local offerings to buy something shipped from California or Florida or Mexico.
I like the Thursday Farmers’ Market at Church of the Atonement because it has vendors from surrounding communities – such as Pitchfork Farm in Shelburne and Meadow Burn Farm in Blandford – that I normally would not drive to for a few ears of corn. It also highlights several city farms that are not in my neighborhood, including Pignatare’s.
My go-to is usually Ray’s in Southwick because I drive by it often and it is pretty close to home. In addition to local fruits and veggies, Ray’s has the best selection of pickles. Yes, pickles. Whether you like them hot and spicy, sweet or sour, Ray’s has got you covered.
I also frequent Kosinki Farms on North Road because it’s minutes away from The Reminder office. Again, the fresh vegetables and fruits are delicious as are the many homemade pastries. And don’t forget the wine from Kosinski’s Raven Hollow Winery next door, which they conveniently sell right at the farm.
Barely over the Westfield line in Holyoke is Fini’s, which has everything from ice cream to veggies and flowers. I also can’t help but make a stop at Calabrese Farm in Southwick when we hit up Moolicious for ice cream. Getting ice cream and vegetables at the same time negates the calories of the ice cream, doesn’t it? I say YES!
When my children were younger, a trip to pick-your-own farms was always a treat. Apples and blueberries were our main picking choices. My son always ate as many as he picked when it came to blueberries! I miss those days, especially because he has no interest in picking – or eating – blueberries anymore. Apple picking is still a favorite fall activity, mostly because the kids still love a good hayride out to an orchard and getting “lost” in the many rows of apple trees.
Still, my favorite farmstand find is a big, thick, juicy tomato – heirloom or beefsteak are the best, in my opinion. When I find the perfect tomato, all I need is a knife and a bit of salt and it takes me back to my childhood Saturdays. If you have not ventured to any of the area farms, run to them this week and see what local treasures you find. And if you try my Poppa’s broiled tomato recipe, let me know how they turn out.