Grown Wild: Toddler at Market

By | September 01, 2013
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Blonde child eating an apple

My arms are laden with bags full of potatoes, Asian pears and turnips. The afternoon sun shines over the farmers' market and illuminates its patrons. My son, Beren, a few months shy of 2 years old, navigates around a stroller loaded with crusty bread. I watch his little hand shoot up and grab a Winesap apple. Before my burdened arms can stop him, he takes a bite. Beneath the dull skin of the fruit lies cream-colored flesh. It's tart, crisp and, by my standards, one of the best-tasting apples. He takes another bite. "OK, I'm going to put this in my bag," I tell him, reaching for the Winesap.

Beren surveys the apples in their neatly arranged boxes. Each box contains fruit subtly different from those in the box adjacent. Some are striped, others speckled. Some are green with a blush of red. While I admire the display, he finds the tomatoes. He strikes again, and I add a marred tomato and a few more undamaged ones to my selection. "Let's pick out the tomatoes together. We can eat them soon," I say.

I look around. Other children are seemingly happy. Many are strapped into strollers. Beren, an early and determined walker, scrambled from his former rides – the stroller and baby carrier – some time ago and never returned to them, at least not willingly. His gait is sure, and his reach is long. He doubles back for the apples. I would like to look at the aromatic bundles of herbs, one of my favorite aspects of the stand, but I decide it's time to pay for our fruits and vegetables, especially those pockmarked by my toddler's teeth.

Our pre-shopping snack at home clearly had not filled Beren's belly. The beautifully arranged fruits and vegetables here at the market call his name. The apples are red and perfectly shaped for small hands. They are arranged in piles that any toddler might love to disassemble. They are enormous. They are not sliced and presented on a plate. They are not cut into pieces sized appropriately for a small mouth and a parent concerned about that little mouth.

Beren has always been particular about food presentation. Knowing that he functions best when well-fed, I have become a student of how my child sees a plate of food. The first rule is that it should not appear any different from the food on his parents' plates. Therefore, vegetables should be crunchy and should not be sliced. Meat should be on the bone. A side dish consisting of an entire stick of butter is preferred. Here at the market, he has found his "whole"-food heaven.

Beren's interest in the incredible displays of fresh fruits and vegetables is instinctual. All of it looks so good. And for that same reason, my arms are marked with red indentations from carrying heavy canvas shopping bags filled with food. After visiting just one farmer's booth, I probably have purchased more than my family can eat in a week. My primal instinct says, "Eat it now before the bounty is gone." Of course, I usually wait until my transaction with the vendor is complete before taking a bite. Beren hasn't yet learned that boundary.

In a few days, I will scramble to preserve the excess of my purchase. I'll blanch and freeze a couple of squashes and experiment with my dehydrator. I'll flip through cookbooks for quick bread recipes and canning ideas. Just as our bellies are full now, our pantry and freezer will be filled for the colder months.

Powered by nibbles of Jersey Fresh pickings, my son runs to the seating area and climbs onto a picnic bench. I rest my bags on the ground. As he observes a family with a dog, I listen to the day's entertainment, a solo country-blues guitarist. He plays a Mississippi John Hurt song, and I hum along. The market is what I hoped it would be – a bit of fun while accomplishing part of our weekly grocery shopping. Beren's attention wanes, and he darts toward a basket of gourds.

On the way back to the car, a young woman demonstrates fermentation recipes. My son samples a carrot from a Mason jar labeled "kimchi." He requests another tangy morsel. When he requests a third sample, I urge him to follow me to the parking lot before we empty each of the vendor's quart jars.

At home, we carry our sacks into the kitchen. An apple with bite marks rolls across the floor. Beren roots through the bag, finds a perfect apple and bites it. "What about this one? The one you already tried?"

"No," he replies simply. "OK, I'll make applesauce," I say. "Mushy," he answers.

I wrap the farm market vegetables in bags and tuck the fruit into the refrigerator's crisper.

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