late summer bounty
When I was around 12 – 13 years old, my father would take me food shopping with him. At the time we rarely bought our fresh vegetables and fruit in a supermarket, maybe there weren’t many yet, maybe their offer was not good enough. These were the times when we still had the milkman at the door twice a week, measuring the fresh, creamy milk directly from the buckets dangling on his two sides from a stick over his shoulders. I hated that milk. It always had a thick layer of skin in my glass and I felt like puking. My mom tried to make me drink it with various tricks, she even let friends bring Nesquik from Germany. It never worked.
In those days, my mom would buy (or, more likely, send me for the task) the odd onion and yogurt from the little grocery store on the corner during the week, but the real shopping was done by my father and me on saturdays. We would drive to the nearest of the many marketplaces around Istanbul, fight for a parking space and then go off for the hunt.
For it was hunt. We would first go around the huge market place, from stall to stall, to see what vegetables and fruits are in season, which are just arriving (therefore at horrendous prices), which are fading off; whose stall has which goods in what condition at what price and which stall owner brings the due respect to a customer as important as a know-all father with his pre-teen, easily amazed daughter with him. Who remembers the customer from last weekend and offers a special price. Then we would start the second round, this time with clearly defined destinations.
My father would go from stall to stall, buying 5 kilos of green apples and 3 of the red, and yes, we want some pears as well, oh, special offer when you buy 3 kilos?, well of course make it 3 then. At the next stand it would be 3 heads of lettuce, 4 kilos tomatoes, 2 kilos of cucumbers, the small, dark green ones (I come from a highly agricultural land and never saw 40 cm cucumbers until I came to Germany, I just do not believe in them to this day). The bunch of parsley and green onions are not even asked for, it is clear that you need them and they go into one of the many plastic bags.
On and on this spree would go, my father always giving me more and more bags to carry, I am sure he never let me carry more than I should, but I would always feel like I am carrying the greater portion of our bounty, I would be proud, he lets me carry the bags, he believes I am strong, his son is still a baby, his wife is at home, I am the one who goes shopping with him. He tells me what to look for when I am shopping vegetables and fruits, I learn to see and appreciate the freshness. Every peach, every cabbage, every eggplant has its story, the stall owners yell all the time praising their goods, where they come from, that they have been just this morning plucked from their trees, bushes, stalks; they even talk in dialects to make it clear: These tomatoes are from Manisa, I am from Manisa, I gathered them this morning before sunrise and came with my lorry all the way up to Istanbul and instead of going to a wholesaler I came here to this market, so you can be sure where your salad comes from.
Then we would finally have everything that was in season and head back to the car. Coming home, my mother would just shake her head and whisper “what am I to do with this much food?”, but only loud enough for me, for she knew that my father would be deeply insulted if he heard this remark. Although living in Turkey for decades, I think she never got used to the amount of food bought, and eaten, in my family. Of course it didn’t make it easier for her that she was never asked if she had some special dish on mind and needed something explicitly for that. She got the provisions that were in season, she got the freshest and she got them in abundance, now it was her problem to come up with the dishes accordingly.
This “saturday shopping with my father” period lasted maybe two years. Then I grew up, other things became more important. I may even have moaned about the burdensome task at some time. Then I stopped going with him. And at some point I just began drinking coffee instead of a glass of milk in the mornings. I still hate milk. But I do love going food shopping, maybe after a break of around 10 years in my teens and early twens. And to my delight, T. loves food shopping as well. In any new town, we always look for the local market and spend hours marvelling at the sometimes familiar, sometimes foreign food.
This load of vegetables in the pictures I bought on the market place in Stuttgart. They were all familiar but with a little twist. They looked so good on our old wooden table and they tasted even better in the simple stew I made of them the next day, after allowing T. to admire them in the evening. It tasted good, in a hearthy stock made from the rest of the bistecca fiorentina, and most of all, it brought back memories of earliest food shopping.