The pretty blond girl behind the cash register seemed to be keeping her own in what was clearly a flirty conversation with two customers at Iovine Brother’s Produce Corner. I couldn’t quite hear exactly, but it sounded like they asked her something about when they would next get to see her.
What is it about fruits and veggies that brings out amore? I was too young by far to try it, but I remember that the dating advice du jour of the late 70s was to stalk the produce aisle in the supermarket. Seemed that squeezing fruit together was the perfect prelude for more carnal pursuits.
But maybe it’s even more elemental, though my training as a historian makes me cringe to say so. Each pepper, tomato, onion, contains life within it. You’ve seen those time-lapse photos of seeds bursting open. Sped up enough and suddenly that small spore seems to have the internal combustion capability of a rocket paired with the desperate (what better word to use?) desire to be.
Once, after a particularly painful breakup, my mother, not usually of an overly compassionate or sentimental demeanor, took me to the farmer’s market and told me to pick out all the fruits and vegetables I wanted. Semi-dazed, eyes sore, I wandered among the winter produce, finding myself feeling better. To this day, I thank her for that life-affirming, healthful ritual. Each apple is essentially like any other, but it’s also unequivocally different, which is a metaphor for something, I’m sure.
At Iovine’s that day, I bought meyer lemons, thinner-skinned and less tart than their more common cousins and a few blood oranges to make a marmalade I’d read about in the New York Times (all of which cost just a couple dollars).* I also grabbed some zucchini to make my mother’s famous zucchini bread (link for recipe). My companion had a basketful of strawberries, peppers, nuts and other goodies. It all felt suffused with such promise that I squeezed his elbow, while the men on line ahead of us offered their last flirtatious bon mots, which the girl happily received.
Except that as soon as we stepped in front of her she rolled her eyes. “My god.” she sighed, and we all laughed suddenly together at the ineptitude of certain men and the cliche of flirting with the checkout girl. “Just another afternoon at Reading Terminal Market,” she offered, smiling.
* wondering how the marmalade came out? Delish! The blood oranges were pretty small, so I used 2. No candy thermometer, so I cooked it a bit too long. The next morning, it had cooled almost to a cranberry sauce consistency. Thinned it a bit with water, which seemed to help. The key, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, is to take it off the heat as soon as it begins to thicken at all, probably when it coats the spoon or when you can feel those thicker bits on the bottom. Either way, though, no worries. My water addition didn’t seem to do it any harm.