Erik Larson has worked at the St. Peter Food Co-op for over 20 years and is a (mostly) lifelong resident of St. Peter. Larson currently serves as Store Operations Manager and was previously Produce Manager and Assistant Deli Manager.
I’ve worked at the St. Peter Food Co-op for over 20 years, 11 of those I spent as the produce manager. One of my favorite things about that time was becoming completely in tune with the seasonality of the offerings. I learned that Washington cherries peak around the 4th of July, the first Satsuma mandarins are always the best of the year and they always show up just before or after Thanksgiving. Michigan Blueberries arrive the third week of July and the August peach crop will make or break my whole summer (remember that year they all went bad? I sure do. Oofda.). For us in southern Minnesota, the whole summer bounty really comes to a crescendo the last week in August. Some friends of mine and I refer to it simply as “The Week.” Produce wise it is. The. Week.
Summer favorites like local cucumbers and zucchini are still going strong. We still have lots of local basil and greens like kale and chard. Northwest blueberries still abound for a short time, and there are even still some cherries around some years. Tomatoes and eggplant are at their absolute peak during The Week. Peppers begin to get red, and my favorite local hot pepper, the cherry bomb is still producing. Adam and Lupita from Living Land Farm are busy delivering heavy loads of 3 different colors of watermelon, and we almost always label them correctly. There was a baker at the co-op who asked me every day, all summer when the local yellow watermelon was going to arrive. Is there anything better than local sweet corn? It’s also at its peak during The Week. From places further than southern Minnesota we receive black mission figs, the best grapes of the year, and never-better peaches and nectarines.
Only during The Week do we get a wonderful overlap of things to come. There might be a few Delicatta Squash that arrive. You’ll start to see some local Zestar apples and, Co-op staff favorite, Tosca pears. While we may have had local cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower sporadically throughout the summer, the cooler nights begin to impart a sweetness to these vegetables that are always best later in the season. Garlic and onions have been harvested and cured and are usually displayed near local potatoes and new crop sweet potatoes. These items remind me that I have hardly used my oven all summer (except maybe for a late-night frozen pizza or two).
Here are some things I think would help us all enjoy the best week of the year for eating:
Eat outside. Buy the GOOD olive oil, and the GOOD butter (you’ll need it). Bake a dessert. Eat only local sweet corn and watermelon for dinner one night. Try a local wine. Buy your food every day instead of making a weekly shopping trip. Make a BLT where the bacon garnishes the thick, local heirloom tomato. Bring something to work to share with your co-workers (especially if you work at the Co-op, hint, hint). Try that recipe you saw in your news feed that one time. Be brave with ingredients you’ve never tried; during The Week everything is so good, you can’t mess it up. Sharpen your knives. Listen to music while you cook. Take your time. Eat later than usual because of it. Eat something only because you know the story of how it made it to your plate. You could attend the Minnesota State Fair for some junk on a stick, too, but why would you need to with all the best food of the year right at your fingertips?
Embrace The Week for the short time it’s here. When The Week is over, we’ll finally notice it’s getting dark a little earlier. School will start and we’ll all go to the Rock Bend Folk Festival. Peaches will be gone and all the cucumbers will be from California again. There’s only one The Week and it’s only a week long. Yogi Berra can use that line any time he wants.