Farmers' markets: Better prices, better food, weird vegetables

When I was a kid, my mother was always on the lookout for food bargains. From wandering around the DC docks in search of really fresh fish to dragging me through markets in Chinatown, she left no stone unturned. Bereft of consumer loyalty, she used to switch grocery stores like a soap-opera heroine switches lovers, always willing to dump a favored suitor in search of fresher corn or a better deal on broccoli.

Sometime in the mid-1980's, she dragged me to a rickety shack in Northern Virginia, telling me that we were going to a "farmers' market." I remember asking her why we wanted to buy a farmer. I didn't receive a satisfactory response, but the maniacal gleam in my mother's eyes told me that this wasn't just another trip to the store. When we got inside, I realized that we weren't in the market for farmers; rather, we were in the market for fresh produce. My mom's face lit up as she surveyed the array of vegetables. Ignoring the straggly appearance of the organic veggies and the stench of the occasional rotten potato, she filled her basket with tons of veggies that I soon saw, boiled to death, on our table. Within a few weeks, she was back, buying bushels of tomatoes and cucumbers, assuring me that I would love the wonders of "pickling."