September is the best month for visiting the farmer's market. You can still find the last hurrah of summer — raspberries, peaches, plums — along with autumn's rich variety of apples and pears, plus all the best vegetables (except for peas). And there are already pumpkins, too.
Tomatoes are abundant and in their glory, finally, after the long wait through June, July, and early August. And my new favorites are the tiny wild cherry tomatoes. I believe this heirloom variety is called Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.
In the past couple of weeks, I've been reading (mostly rereading) books about Venice, beginning with No Vulgar Hotel by Judith Martin, and moving on to the first (and best) of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice. (We also watched The Wings of the Dove yet again; it has the most gorgeous costumes and settings of any film I know.) I was annoyed to realize that I don't have my own copy of John Berendt's City of Falling Angels, so while the Boston Public Library is digging up their copy for me, I'm rereading Marlena DiBlasi's delicious memoir-with-recipes, A Thousand Days in Venice. In her early middle age, possessed of a newly renovated house and a thriving café in St. Louis, she met a Venetian gentleman while traveling there, fell in love, uprooted herself, and moved to his dreadful apartment on the Lido within months. Yesterday morning, I read about one of her early visits to the Mercato, the centuries-old outdoor market:
As I passed by Michele's table one day, his head was bent into the work of weaving the dried stems of small silver onions into braids. Without looking up at me, he freed his hands to hold out a branch of tomatoes, each one so small it looked like a tight rosebud. I pulled at one and rolled it around in my mouth, chewed it slowly. Its savor and perfume were that of a two-pound sun-warmed tomato distilled, suspended inside the tiny ruby fruit. Still with his head bent, Michelle asked, "Hai capito? Have you understood?" Short for "Have you understood that these are the earth's most beautiful tomatoes?" He knew very well I'd understood.
Man, I wanted to understand, too. But I doubted our farmer's market would have anything quite like that. So imagine my happiness when, later the same morning at our market, I found a wooden crate sitting on a farmer's table holding hundreds of tiny tomatoes on drying stems. All perfectly round and scarlet, the size of small grapes. I sampled one, and Venice did not feel so far away. As Signora DiBlasi wrote, it held the sweet, complex flavor of a much larger, ripe tomato condensed into one bite. One can and should eat them like candy. Moving along, I found that other farmers were selling cartons of them, without their vines — along with September's usual cherry, grape, plum, field, and heirloom tomatoes, in every color from golden to purple to black.
But I believe these tiny ruby ones are the best, and I wish you the pleasure of eating them straight from their vine.
The Mercato, in September 2009.