When Janet called last Thursday to ask if I wanted a brief outing to visit Plum Market on their opening day, I was too curious to stay home. Of course it was packed with people acting like they had never seen food before. And there was a lot of beautiful food. The huge piles of orange, yellow, green exotic citrus and tropical fruits as you come in are stunning to Michigan winter's vitamin-C deprived tastebuds and snow-bleared eyes. I brought home both some tiny greenish-yellow limequats and a couple of bright orange mandarinquats - small citrus fruits whose skin is sweeter than the tart flesh inside. I may have to go back for a Buddha's hand - shaped like a many-limbed octopus it's possibly the strangest fruit in the entire pantheon.
I've heard a lot of excitement about Plum Market. It's great that there's a (local) grocery store on that side of town now and that it's re-using a building space that might otherwise have been torn down. Janet loves their terrazzo floors. I liked how the produce has tags that tell you where each item originated. It was easy to tell it was Michigan rhubarb! I don't know how someone is growing Michigan rhubarb right now (hothouses?), but I was glad to see it. I also liked that they had Calder milk. And they seem to be running quite a few sales, though not as many samples as I would have expected.
I read recently that Americans spend 90% of their food budget on processed and prepared foods and this trend has not passed Plum Market unnoticed. They have a HUGE prepared food section. Probably 1/3 of the store is devoted to a ready-to-eat area with an enormous salad bar, hot bar, and soup bar along with wood-oven pizzas, cooked pasta and rotisserie chickens just before you get to the pastry cases. It all looks and smells pretty darn tasty. And there were lots of families with little kids cruising around. On the way out is a little coffee bar serving Zingerman's coffee and pastries with tables and chairs so you can eat your take-out salad.
Although I'm thrilled that it's not another Kroger, I couldn't help feeling a bit ambivalent about Plum Market's entry into the Ann Arbor food scene. Although it's much more like Whole Foods, I'm hoping that it doesn't put Arbor Farms or the Co-op out of business. And I hope that the people who live in the neighborhoods nearby can afford to shop there. It was uncomfortably crowded and people seemed very focused on getting stuff into their carts.
I've continued going to the Farmer's Market every Saturday that I can and I always wonder why I don't see more people there - both vendors and customers. The feeling there is so much warmer and more personal. There aren't so many people, but the ones who are there seem to have time to spend talking to each other. And it's like winning a prize to get to take home some fresh eggs from Our Family Farm or apples from Wasem or greens from Shannon.
Back to that hankering for citrus that will never appear at the Farmer's Market....Janet brought me another installment of the wonderful Meyer lemons from the tree that is expressing its regard for mild Tennessee weather with a bumper crop of lemon love. These lemons are plump, delicate and juicy and much more thin-skinned than one I got at the Co-op last week. I am using them to make this Meyer Lemon Marmalade from Epicurious today. Scurvy begone.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
6 Meyer lemons (1 1/2 lb)
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
Halve lemons crosswise and remove seeds. Tie seeds in a cheesecloth bag. Quarter each lemon half and thinly slice. Combine with bag of seeds and water in a 5-quart nonreactive heavy pot and let mixture stand, covered, at room temperature 24 hours.
Bring lemon mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 4 cups, about 45 minutes. Stir in sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until a teaspoon of mixture dropped on a cold plate gels, about 15 minutes.
Ladle hot marmalade into jars, filling to within ‰ inch of top. Wipe rims with dampened cloth and seal jars with lids.
Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Add enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Boil jars, covered, 5 minutes and transfer with tongs to a rack. Cool jars completely.