Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, February 2, 2013

New market for new ideas

I love a market. Especially open air or itinerant markets where the farmers and artisans are the ones who haul their goods to the site, set up stalls and sell directly to you. This is their own farm produce, their plants and flowers. They are serving food that was cooked in their kitchen, showing off the handiwork of their hands. Anywhere in the world, freshly harvested fruit and vegetables excite me. Dasheen, cassava or eddoes with the moist earth still clinging to the roots are fascinating pre-food. Do you notice the sheen on tomatoes still plump from the picking. Almost as much as I take pleasure in picking freshest produce, I seek out conversations with craft creators and artisans about their work. These are always informative and entertaining.

Well-shaded spaces in the Green Market

Cushcush and green fig: hearty "organic" food

The idea of the market is as old as human civilization. Beyond basic and honest civility, openness and communication are the only rules.

You can talk to anybody.
"So did you bring the silk fig today?" This seller promising special bananas alongside his plantain for a couple weeks. Last week, you found out that he worked for the same company that you did - and practically at the same time - but over ten years ago. He's into real estate and has an agricultural holding, a gentleman farmer.
"Next week, bring your plantain shepherd's pie for us to sample."
"That's easy to make," he responds, "you should taste the honey-baked plantain."
"Bring that too!"

Snack on "organic" chataigne, boiled and lightly salted

You taste new things.
"Sweetest sapodilla down by the end." The overheard comment draws a rush of buyers for the egg-shaped brown fruit, sweet as honey.
"Those five fingers not sour at all." Small heaps of the yellow-orange star fruit disappear within the half hour. Someone is already making five finger chow on the spot.
"Queen orange!" you exclaim. "Ortanique,"the vendor corrects, "and over here, king oranges."
This week, you sample the hot creole cocoa. The cold chocolate is milky and minty. But the hot cocoa is stimulating with a slight smoky edge. Buy a couple of the creole chocolate pods to sample at home.
"You don't have to grate your fingers. Just break a chunk of the chocolate and melt in hot water. Add milk and sweeten to taste."

Sample cocoa tea, and learn how to make it

Eating outside opens appetites.
Today, try aloo pies or doubles, or a chunky slice of cake with a fruity frosting. The coconut bake lady has made her name with wholewheat bake and buljol or tomato choka. There's a hole -not only in stomachs - when she is not there. Cheups.

The "coconut bake" lady serves breakfast

You share cooking secrets.
Fresh fish this week includes shrimp, crabs and lobster still alive, over there. Cleaned ready to cook redfish, carite and salmon in the other corner. I'm looking for moonshine, a silvery fish my Dad taught me to steam with ginger and salty black beans.
"How to cook salmon?"
"Steam or stew? Steam Chinese style with ginger and chive and pour some sizzling oil to finish. Or stew with a Caribbean sofrito of tomato, onion, garlic and pepper in olive oil. Leave the fish whole."

Do you know how to cook a moonshine?

People remember you.
The farmer-vendor has different roots this week, more yams and cassava. You buy a breadfruit instead. And he presents you with three little cushcush roots, a gift.

Is it organic?
Ask the producers directly - find out their growing and harvesting practices.

People know what you like.
My Dad used to go to the central market in town every Saturday. If you went with him, it was mainly to help carry the bags. "Mr Wong, look what I have for you this week."
"The sweet orange now coming in, here try this,"and a peeled cut orange is thrust to him.
"I keep these three fat caraille for you."
"I know you like winter melon - I have one left for you."
"Special jumbo shrimps how you like them."
And even after all the children had left home, and he was cooking for a household of two or three, he still returned with bags of greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, always more when the prices were down.

Paramin farmers - dedicated to producing healthy food

You appreciate hand made.
When last you saw someone crocheting, or knitting? Colourful crochet accessories and shirts remind me of things my mother made.
"First thing I look for when I travel is thread..." the craftsperson starts this conversation, "this is all cotton from Venezuela. Others are nylon or polyester blends."
Imagine collars decorated with beads and feathers. Cloth bags in a variety of shapes and patterns.
The candle maker is a petite girl; her candles are scented: white ginger; peppermint, mocha, nutmeg. "All the candles are soy wax. The wicks are wood chips. They will burn completely, you just have to make sure that the wax liquefies to the edges."

Elegant soy wax candles with wooden wicks 

You can provide feedback.
"You know that water cress I bought last week went yellow two days after."
"This week, it should stay fresh longer." And indeed, it does.
"That pumpkin squash bakes beautifully." This to people who are choosing the bright orange wedges of pumpkin nearby.
"That bhaji was the best, cooked down soft and sweet."
"Can't walk here when it rains..."

Playful accessories with feathers and beads

And you can be a seller too.
Being in the market gives you ideas. Hmm, I can make breads. I can sew aprons, kitchen towels, bags and oven mitts. I can bring the surplus from my avocado and mango trees. I can make brownies and peanut punch. I can ... Next thing you are signing up for your own booth, to share the fruit of your garden, the work of your hands.
Dare to wear a crochet bikini!
And so, the market is not just where some people come to sell, and others to buy. It is an arena where the buyers begin to understand at a deeper level what they are buying - someone else's labour, something transformed in the alchemy of soil, water, air and sunshine into fruit, root, vegetable. Here, the sellers buy from each other.

More than mere commerce, the market is a place of human interaction, communication, community, communion. Ask the people who go - religiously - to the San Juan Market, the Tunapuna Market, the Chaguanas Market, the Central Market or any other, every week. The habit is built upon relationships they may not be willing to change.

The San Antonio Green Market is both market and a space for fresh ideas - where it may be possible to build healthier practices, gentler lifestyle and appreciation of the green heart that is the Santa Cruz valley.

Hawaiian torches grown in Santa Cruz

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for checking out my candles. Your pics are beautiful. I missed out on the sapodillas :-( but I did have the aloo pie which was a good tasty snack.

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  2. Great blog on the market! And everything you say is true. The vibe is so relaxed and friendly, you can't help staying a little longer than intended when there :)

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