November at the market

November at the market is cold and gray, much like November in any other setting. Dead leaves crunch underfoot and the harvest is playing its coda; another month and only the produce of cold frames and greenhouses will remain. The throngs of July have dwindled to bands of hardy stragglers, serious growers and cooks who know how to make the best of a difficult season and whose temperaments incline them to ignoring the hardships of weather. The early morning air is barely above freezing and the sky is bleak, the sun a pale smudge behind the deeper smudges of clouds. It is a good day to build a fire in the fireplace and go back to bed, but a few dozen farmers and craftspeople and a few hundred customers have come to brave the cold and do some business. Strong coffee helps.

The vendors shiver, huddled behind their folding tables, counting change with stiff and frozen fingers. Most have been out since first light, which this time of year comes soon after six-thirty. The transplants from northern climes who keep the market going as the season progresses are no better able to count their change than the natives, but they bear the cold more easily. A few wrap themselves in handknit hats and scarves and chatter with customers to keep their teeth from doing the same. A Connecticut native charges a customer six dollars and ten cents for a dozen eggs and two pork chops, then reconsiders: six dollars will do, no need to count out so many coins for so little return. Put the gloves back on, keep the fingers warm for more important transactions later.

Northern accents are commoner these days across the tables, too, but it is less the Southern-born than the money-bred whose numbers fall with the temperature. One can still make an excellent living from what the market provides: broccoli, beets, carrots, kale, collards, three kinds of Western and Chinese cabbages and a wreath of lettuces, even a few bell peppers hanging on. Three varieties of goat cheese, breads, free-range chicken, eggs, pork, beef. A thoughtful and talented cook would need little else. But these are not the easy luxuries of spring and summer, no strawberries and tomatoes and peaches to be eaten out of hand. These are more elusive luxuries, demanding effort from the consumer and appreciation of stronger flavors. The fair-weather shoppers stay home and subsist in blissful ignorance on California’s leftovers until spring releases them from their cocoons. November offers little of its own accord; those who appreciate it will make luxuries out of the everyday and find comfort where they can.

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