Friday, September 29, 2006

Haymarket: A Boston Bargin Hunters Dream

On Fridays and Saturdays, just about every weekend of the year, rain or shine (or even snow), Boston is home to one of the oldest outdoor produce and fish markets in America, Haymarket. Haymarket has been in the same spot in Boston for over 140 years, at the corner of Hanover and Blackstone Streets near the oldest continuous operating restaurant in the United States, The Union Oyster House and across the street from the oldest continuous operating public house in the United States, The Bell and Hand.

At Haymarket, one can purchase at rock bottom and dirt cheap prices any variety of fruit, vegetable, fish, meat, nuts, and cheese from places as close as Concord, MA and as far away as Malaysia. The variety of produce and other goods offered is astounding. You will find plantains next to watermelon. Watercress sells beside heads of cabbage. You want to find the perfect poblano peppers for stuffing, there will be four stalls across from each other selling them and each will try to outdo the other in pricing. Berries and fruits that you have never seen before sit next to strawberries and blackberries.

The best time to go is early Friday or Saturday morning when the selection is the best and the vendors are the friendliest. Third and fourth generation owners who hawk their wares in the time honoured fashion of calling out to passerbys a steady stream of what is available run most of the stands. It is not uncommon to hear “Fresh tomatoes, 10 for a dollar” or “Nice green peppers, 4 for .50 cents.” You can actually hear the fishmonger yell out “cockles and mussels” if you linger long enough around where the fish stalls are located. Some of the vendors are what can only be termed as crotchety. During a recent visit a few weekends ago on a bright cool late summer morning, MBH and I witnessed what can only be termed a typical exchange between one salty New England green-grocer and a shopper when he assulted his customer with a sarcastic “If I wanted to cheat you, I’d charge you 1 for $4” and all the while pointing to a sign for summer squash showing “4 for $1” and filling a bag of fresh mushrooms for lady.

I like to go and pick up a variety of fruits and vegetables around which I plan the week’s meals. Our most recent visit consisted of purchases of cilantro, peppers in red, yellow and orange, shell beans, raspberries, peaches, plums, and an avocado. The cilantro ended up paired with my homegrown tomatoes, basil, garlic and garden chives to form a wonderful home made bruscetta. I roasted the peppers along with a bumper crop of my garden green peppers and have topped sandwiches for lunches with them all week. The fruit made a cobbler and provided a nice afternoon pick me up at work. The shell beans or “shelly beans” as MBH knows them as were made in the good old-fashioned Southern way of boiling them with chunks of salt pork and pepper, ala MBH Mother’s recipe. The only disappointing purchase was the avocado. It was not ripe and then went rotten before it ripened. But for 10 cents, I can’t complain and it was more than worth the price of admission to the circus.