End summer with big pot of vegetable soup

September 29, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

It's the time of the year when people think of tart apples, Indian corn, tangy cider and large rockfish.

But some of us think of turnips.

This is the month to be on the receiving end of the summer harvest. What could be better than a frenzy of vegetable buying at the Saturday morning farmers' market at 32nd and Barclay streets in Waverly? For those of us who think there's nothing better than a bowl of vegetable soup, September is our month.

There's an added bonus to visiting the open-air market. It allows shoppers to catch up on neighborhood news and gossip. I love it. You see half the residents and learn three-quarters of their business.

At the market these days, mornings are cooler and the air seems cleaner. True, the August corn is no more. And the tomato is past its peak. But we've moved on to other seasonal delights like the fall squash and the lowly turnip.

And let's not overlook some of the trendy and seductive foods that have worked their way onto the scene. There's a trio of young people who haul in a fancy, supercharged coffee wagon with steam jets and spouts and compressors. It has more bottles of Italian-made sugar syrups than a snowball stand.

The coffee wagon looks like a band organ. You expect it to start playing "Lady of Spain."

But didn't I fork over $2 for a cup of mocha java brew? No one was holding a gun to my head.

And the breads that get imported to Baltimore from fancy Montgomery County bakeries require a federal loan. Rich vendors dressed like striving peasants sell these at $5.50 a loaf. Are there complaints? No. There are lines of purchasers willing to pay the freight.

And every third shopper carries a bunch of goldenrod, the roadside weed. And those who are not are clutching sunflowers, once considered a rather crude garden ornament associated with privies. No fools these farmers. They know how to make $3 a bunch by weeding the back 40.

This is also the political season. I try to get to the market at the magic hour when the local politicians have moved on, presumably seeking votes in Northwood or Pimlico.

For some reason, politicians seem to think that people who market early on Saturdays are regular voters.

The farmers who sell their produce at the market don't deal in promises as politicians do. They deal in parsley, potatoes and Winesaps. Over the years since this valuable neighborhood asset was established, I have built up a relationship of trust with a couple of the overalled vendors. I don't always know their names. A few of us have words to describe each other. There's one lady I call Mom. I think her farm is somewhere off Belair Road. It was her turnips that turned me on the other day.

I find the best thing to do is to act dumb and seek their advice. I wind up with all sorts of suggestions.

One man gave me some dried thyme. Another suggested the upper portion of leeks. Those leek leaves (maybe stalks?) gave the vegetable soup a pungent September taste.

Don't ask for a more precise explanation of what a September taste is, as opposed to an August taste or an October taste. You know what I mean.

A September taste may have something to do with turnips. They add a -- of taste to a pot of homemade vegetable soup, one that has simmered all day and is full of an inventory you might never eat singly.

The farmers always seem willing to make up a small bag of green beans or limas when I don't need enough for a church supper. The limas never yield much and require tedious shelling for not much bean. But you can't make real vegetable soup without them.

People have funny reactions to some of the food I serve. One term that has been pinned on my kitchen's output is "comfort food."

One Violetville visitor polished off a bowl of my vegetable soup made with farmers' market turnips and called it "Depression food" because turnips were so inexpensive during the 1930s.

I didn't know whether to be insulted or complimented until he asked for a second helping.

The best part of a big pot of vegetable soup is that although it is perfectly fine for a Saturday night supper, it is even better for Sunday lunch. By Tuesday or Wednesday, it is properly aged and is at its best. And, when at its most delicious, this comforting Depression soup runs out.

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