Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Santa at the Farmers Market

Yessirree, the Farmers Market is very green in the month of December! The greens, however, as you may have guessed, are not edible. Almost the entire front section is filled with holiday wreaths, table arrangements, and decorations made from evergreens, embellished with seasonal ribbons and sparkle. It looks very colorful and festive and I saw smiling customers walking away with unique arrangements, created by an extended farming family in their "off time".

It was a biting cold Saturday and I cruised quickly along the aisles in search of apples and cider. Many farmers had constructed little 3-sided tents to hold a bit of the heat generated by their propane heaters. In the old days, the heaters were called "salamanders"; they were fueled with kerosene, which made a nasty and ominous black smoke when something was about to go awry. Yes, I speak from experience.

If you have been reading carefully, I assume you are about to ask: why would a heater be called a salamander? Well, in one of those perhaps more-often-than-we-realize correlations between the pedestrian and the mythological, salamanders have an 'illustrious' history as magical creatures related to fire. Wikipedia dispels the myth with a possible rational explanation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamander but also lists the extensive literary references to salamanders and fire.

But I don't think the propane heaters have a similar pedigree; they're just warm. As I rounded the corner by the Mill Pond stall, I almost bumped right into John Savanna, Mill Pond head baker and long-time friend. He said, "You look cold! Go stand over by my heater while I get you some bread!" I said, "John, you've been out here all morning; you should be by the heater!" He just grinned and starting loading loaves into a box.

And that's how I found Santa at the market. He's about a hundred pounds lighter and two feet taller than the proverbial elf; and John has a ways to go before he can sport a full white beard, but the good-natured spirit of generosity that John exudes sure makes you feel like Santa is right here!

I've written about John before (5/25/07 and 10/22/07) and he has gone through hard times to be sure. But it was a gray and frigid day; there very few customers (something to do with "gray and frigid" I believe); there was a lot of bread on the table that John was not going to sell; but there wasn't a hint of complaining in his voice. When asked if he was going to come to the market all winter, he answered an emphatic Yes! He said it was hard getting up in the morning, but once you get going and interacting with the customers, it's worth it. And every customer who takes the trouble to come down to the market on gray and frigid days makes it worthwhile for our local Farmer's Market artisans and craftsmen to get up in the morning and keep going.

John continued to happily fill a box of goodies for me as I stood by his heater. I noticed that he had cookies which he hasn't brought to market in six years. As he carefully placed two gingerbread giantesses in my box, he said, "You know, it makes the kids so happy to see cookies like these; I'm just going to keep making them." John also makes a Butter-Walnut cookie that is formed by a squeeze of his fist. Every single Butter-Walnut cookie has been created with that artful squeeze; and they are yummy! Now that is real hand labor.

The box was filled and John proceeded to carry it to the car for me. Okay, he's a good friend; we go back 35 years and help each other out a lot. But John treats everyone with a similar kindness. He is passionate about baking and loves to share the fruits of his labors. If you stop by his stall,you'll see an array of seasonal goodies baked fresh the night before and delivered with a twinkle in John's eye. If you look cold, I'll bet he'd let you stand by his heater!


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