|"They're just apples."|
The Ventimiglia market is a large, vibrant, covered market made up of six long rows of vendors selling every type of Italian food you can imagine.
The middle three rows are piled high with fruit and vegetables imported from everywhere in Italy, France and Spain. Rows one and six span the length of the sides like culinary bookends for the fruits and vegetables. This is where the bakeries, pastry shops, cheese specialists, delicatessens, butchers, dry goods and fresh pasta sellers are set up. Bunched up at the back there's a fish monger, a few florists, and a stall that sells luggage, hats, and aprons.
When I visit, I tend to shop everywhere but the fifth row is by far my favourite. It's reserved for a dozen or so local producers, many of whom are older Italian women from the surrounding countryside. Their tables are overflowing with a seasonal mishmash of fruits and vegetables made up of, it seems, whatever they happened to gather from their garden that morning or the day before.
I was strolling down row five, buying up this and that, when I spotted one of the women selling pretty little apples. I almost missed them altogether because they were partially hidden by some bitter greens that she'd piled haphazardly around them.
I'd never seen little apples like these before so I wanted to know all about them. What breed were they? Was the tree native to here? Are they always this small? Where was her farm?
I started my food interrogation with "what were they called?" but instead of answering, she shrugged, put a handful or two of them into a little white bag and replied, "they're just apples."
I laughed out loud. "They're just apples." I repeated. This was my lightbulb moment which was: perhaps that's all I needed to know.
Over the years, I've developed a habit of asking growers a lot of questions about the food I'm buying. Sometimes they share interesting information about their products, perhaps a recipe. I love hearing their stories and look forward to repeating them when I serve meals made with the ingredients.
This insatiable need to know the story behind the food we eat has become a trend lately. We crave accountability and provenance and we love a good food story and I confess I'm as guilty as the next person. Just ask my friend Colin who sells his products at the Lansdowne Farmers' Market in Ottawa. He jokingly calls me a "food spy" because when we first met, I asked him so many questions about what he was selling he grew suspicious.
To my Italian apple vendor in row five, her apples were just apples. Simple. There was no story. Her apples were delicious, pretty, and a only a few Euro per kilo.
So this is my story about having no story about the apples. Old habits die hard.