Boulder Farmers' Market, week three: Salad days bring back memories of my mother
When I was little, my mother used to send me to the fishmonger to pick up fish heads and other piscine waste. This was during the postwar years in London, when food was on the ration and Englishwomen were struggling to make cakes out of dried egg powder and pretend cream from margarine, milk and cornflour. They got one egg a week per child (none for adults); used carrots as sweetener, sugar being almost unobtainable; and found dozens of uses for Spam. Fortunately, my mother was a country girl from Czechoslovakia, and she knew how to make do: She jellied pigs' feet, made risotto with chicken giblets (I swear, given a few handfuls of rice and some offal, my mother could feed multitudes), and cut whatever flesh could be salvaged from a calf's head. We not only never went hungry at our house, we ate deliciously -- except for the time I came home from school, glimpsed a poor denuded head on the kitchen counter, burst into tears and refused to eat for days.
My mother was particularly skilled with offal, but everyone we knew ate liver and onions and served thin-sliced beef tongue at parties, and my sister, Eva, and I fought over beef bones from soups and stews to scrape out the delicious marrow -- now considered a delicacy in many upscale restaurants, though most of my friends still get nauseated when they see the greasy gray globules on a plate. With my mother's ghost at my elbow, I always feel guilty if I don't pick all the meat from the backs, wings and necks I've boiled for chicken stock.
So I am particularly interested when Frank Silva, of Homestead Beef, tells me at this past Saturday's Boulder Farmers' Market about his experiences as a boy in Long Beach, California. Silva's family was poor, and his Portuguese father went to the docks daily to retrieve discarded fish heads for a soup that included sweetbreads, whole hard-boiled eggs and great chunks of bread. Now, Silva says wistfully, he continues to crave the stuff, but nobody knows how to make it. (I Googled later and found several recipes for Portuguese fish-head soup or stew, though none exactly matched Silva's description. Also an article on fish offal from the Guardian.)
Silva's boyhood dock visits did create a lifelong aversion to tuna. There was ice in the boats, he explains, but the fishermen had no way of keeping their catch cold once it was landed and laid out, and the fish soon crawled with maggots. "I remember the smell," Frank says. "I still feel sick whenever I open a can of tuna."
It's another gray day, not particularly cold, but threatening rain and growing cooler rather than warmer as the morning wears on. Some farmers haven't come. There are fewer shoppers then usual -- at least by 10 a.m., when I leave -- and most of the stands carry the same produce they carried the week before. The parking lot behind the Dushanbe Teahouse has been closed for construction all spring; the remaining lot always fills up fast, and there are "no parking" signs in the street -- I'm not sure why.
Miller Farms brought asparagus last Saturday, so I'm expecting more and planning asparagus menus, but apparently that very early first flush of spears was a small miracle that hasn't repeated. Walking the food court, I notice I'm not smelling the addictive lime-soy sauce that goes with the dumplings at Sisters Pantry -- and realize I haven't seen the sisters in action yet this spring. Checking the website, I see that that their commercial facility in Lyons was so damaged by last year's floods that the sisters will skip farmers' markets for the entire year, though their wonderful dumplings will still be available at festivals and in some stores.