You Say Tomato, I Say September

School's back, but it's still summer at the market

Despite having been released from the grips of academic life for good a few years ago, I still find that the arrival of September always awakens a deep and powerful feeling of dread, panic, and doom. While others look forward to the changing colors of Central Park's leaves, I bite my nails late into the night. I have no orientation to attend, no teachers to meet, no dodge ball or vocabulary lists or geometry to fear, but it still feels like the world is ending—a little part of me dies every year.

In my mind, everything else dies too. The only thing worse than winter is the anticipation of winter. When I think of autumn, endings come to mind: not just the summer vacations I no longer have but still covet, but so many hot weather joys, a lot of them edible. (Tomatoes, peaches, corn, and basil in particular.)

Perhaps in a small step towards adulthood, I'm starting to see the good in September, though. I've been talking to some farmers at the Union Square Greenmarket, and am starting to realize that summer—the season does not end with summer—the state of mind. At least the quintessential foods stick around for a bit, even after all the back-to-school sales have come and gone.

Wait at your own risk: Watermelons could be around till Thanksgiving.
photo: Nina Lalli
Wait at your own risk: Watermelons could be around till Thanksgiving.

Many of summer's precious offerings are at their height right now, and new stuff is arriving with the cooler temperatures, so some fall treats overlap. Here's a rundown of the status of some beloved local foods. If you get a pang of anxiety normally associated with picking out an outfit for the first day of school, remember: you can still eat a Caprese salad, or corn on the cob, for about a month. It seems October is the real killjoy . . .

At Migliorelli Farms, the corn and peaches will be around through September. Plus, they have the best broccoli rabe in town. Right now, it's mostly leaves, and they're very tender.

Tomatoes are still going strong at Cheerful Cherry. When I inquired about some particularly gorgeous heirloom Brandywines, the woman running the stall said they'll be available "until we get a freeze—probably at the end of September." Phew.

You can't make a respectable Caprese without basil, of course. The fragrant leaves will be at the market about as long as the tomatoes are, through the month. Berried Treasure also has several varieties of tiny, buttery new potatoes, which just appeared and will be won't go anywhere for a few months.

Watermelons have been popping up on restaurant menus all summer, in a variety of incarnations—salads, drinks, soups, and desserts. Oak Grove Plantation has "revolutionary" melons, which are extremely sweet and perfectly round. The man I spoke to said, with a grin, "Sometimes there are watermelons till Thanksgiving!" but don't count on it. Let's say October. The farm also has okra, one of the world's most underrated veggies. People, a little slime never hurt anyone. For those who appreciate it, okra will be around for about three weeks, or possibly four. "It doesn't like the cold weather," the farmer said. That makes two of us.

At Red Jacket Orchards, the apricots were piled high, but looks can be deceiving. They'll be gone in a week, so get there fast if you're a fan. Soon apples will dominate the scene, including a new variety called Sansa, which is an early Gala. Pears have also begun to appear—red Barletts and regular Bartletts. And of course, the kiss of death to summer, at least four kinds of plums will make their debut next week.

Van Houten Farms will have cucumbers through September.

Some locally grown Asian delights can be found at Yuno's Farms, like fresh shiso leaf, edamame, for just another week, and Chameh melons for about two weeks more. There is also "Yuno's Farms famous" avocado squash, a summer squash that's round and green. This and other summer squashes will be available until mid October. Purslane is available through September.

Berries are not history. Well, not quite. Blueberries are on their last legs at Phillips Farms, but raspberries will hang in for about five more weeks and blackberries about three weeks. Maybe being a grownup isn't quite as bad as I thought.

 
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