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Strawberries, Greens, and Fresh Bread

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Guest-post and photography by Anna Goodling

You always know summer has come when the Farmer’s Markets start. Brightly-colored tents scattered around a small country common-green backed by a tall white steeple or a red brick schoolhouse attract local Vermont residents and out-of-state visitors alike. Vendors hawk their wares in good ol’ Vermont style, with a twinkle in their eye and a backwoods twang in their voice. Neighbor greets neighbor with a howdy all around and a swapping of stories in the shade of the old oak or maple trees that line the common. Seasoned Vermonters of many generations shock the visiting tourists with stories of last winter’s snows and the still-oozing mud-season ruts on the back roads. Summer is welcomed in proper, with fresh produce and zucchini in ever-increasing numbers.
The Chelsea Farmer’s Market is just such a weekly occurrence here during the summer. Every Friday, the locals gather from miles around (or at least up to the next town over) to set up their vendors and sell their goods, from pottery dishes and Adirondack chairs to handmade clothing and every type of organic produce imaginable. This week the strawberries made their first appearance, and were much lauded by the little old ladies from the Old Folks’ Home with their market baskets and their straw sunhats, hungry for strawberry shortcake.

Every Market, live entertainment is provided by a local musician. This week Luke played his fiddle, Daddy accompanying him on guitar. All the strawberry-buying ladies flocked to the music tent with their purchases, to listen, clap, and talk. One of them stopped to reminisce about the time last year when she had no money, so gave Luke half a tray of home-made brownies by way of a tip. That was a good day.
While Luke plays and the old ladies sit at the picnic tables in the sun, children run around the green or explore the pebbles below the flagpole. A little girl, blonde curls up in pigtails, dances in front of the music tent, causing the ladies to ooh and ah. Her Daddy looks up from across the Market and smiles. The usual gang of rowdy little boys races around the green, running from one produce-filled tent to the next wreaking havoc, ice cream cones clasped in dirty fists, occasionally taking a lick as they tumble. The little girl stops her dancing and stares after them as they race by.
I watch Luke play his music for a while, enjoying the sun. Then I’m off to wander the Market and make my own purchases. First to the Bread Guy with Mother, to buy two or three fresh loaves of fragrant, crusty, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. The Bread Guy is a character. He looks a typical old Vermont codger, with a slightly unruly grey beard, faded baseball cap, old tee-shirt with holes around the edges, and a jolly Saint-Nicholas belly. But the minute the Bread Guy opens his mouth? Double-take. British accent? Fantastic, and rather too cultured for his surroundings. Mother stands talking to him for a while, all about his bread oven and business from past markets. I listen, somewhat mesmerized. We leave his tent with two big loaves of bread, and two even bigger smiles.
From the Bread Guy, we move on to the produce. The strawberries haven’t been quite all bought up by the little old ladies, so we trade a handful of coin for a carton of the red juicy sweet. Nothing like a fresh, sun-ripe strawberry. I sneak one or two out of the carton and into my mouth when no one is looking. The man selling the strawberries tells us his berry plants are probably on their last year – but he’ll nurse them along as long as he possibly can anyway. He’ll probably get another year or two out of them, if he’s careful. I agree. The berries are good.
Mother and I move back across the market to listen to Luke play, stopping on the way to buy a cookie from the shy man who never says much and doesn’t have a tent, but has the best chocolate chip cookies in the Market. We eat them on a bench in the sun. The chocolate has melted inside the cookies, and drips out over my fingers. Yum.
Finally, it’s evening. At six o’clock, the Market ends. Luke packs up his fiddle and Daddy his guitar. Mother puts the bread and strawberries (minus a few) in the car. The ladies take their full market baskets back to the Old Folks’ Home. The Bread Guy packs up the few loaves he has left. The pottery man and the man with the strawberries and the woman with the sewing and the vegetables begin to pack up their wares as well. I pile into the truck with the rest of my family. We bounce out of town and away from paved roads, back to the mountain and home.

Pasta with tomatoes and good fresh bread for dinner. And for dessert? Strawberry shortcake.