It Doesn’t Get Any Better

When we moved five years ago and I retired, I understood that my cooking style would need to change. One of my favorite things to do in Pittsburgh was to enjoy the vast array of foods available. We ate out frequently, sometimes as often as three times a week. And then there was the Strip District. Not a district of strip clubs, but a neighborhood downtown where stores sell to the public at wholesale prices. On Saturday mornings, it is packed shoulder to shoulder with people. There is a seafood shop there that rivals Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market. It’s called Wholey’s market, and has been there for many years, still run by the Wholey family. They started out long ago selling live poultry, eggs, duck and turkey. They now specialize in seafood, but more unusual items are also available. For example, you can buy frozen turtle, fresh calamari and the biggest jumbo crab legs you will see anywhere (at least, I haven’t seen any bigger ones). There is also an Italian market called Penn Mac (the shop is on a street called Penn Avenue). There, you will find hundreds of varieties of olive oil, cheeses from all over the world, pasta, and fresh Italian bread. I always knew that I could find whatever I needed in this diverse and eclectic neighborhood of shops.

I remember the first time I walked through the local supermarket in our home town. There were some products that were new to me – rolled Amish butter, pickled bologna (not my favorite), suet in the meat case, and a wall of baked goods, most of them sweet. But I couldn’t find any polenta, or kombucha, or even quinoa. For these  “unusual” products, I needed to travel about 25 miles to a larger town, and go to Meijer – a large “superstore” comparable to Wal-Mart. This was also where I needed to go to purchase any fresh produce, as that available locally was just not fresh.

After we had been here a couple of years, the local grocery store changed management. I knew the new manager, and sent him suggestions of items I would enjoy purchasing from the store. He told me that if there was something I needed that required a trip to Meijer, to tell him, and he would make sure to stock it, allowing me to shop locally, and much more conveniently. I remember thinking that such willingness to cater to my individual needs would not likely be available in a larger city.

He kept his word. Within two days of requesting kombucha, he sent me a picture of it on the shelf. The produce improved immensely, and during canning season, fresh products from local farms were available. Also, around this time, I learned that Wholey’s, Penn Mac and our favorite maker of charcuterie will ship their products next day air to our little town via UPS. I feel like we have the best of both worlds. We are able to order items that aren’t available locally from trusted resources, and we can obtain locally grown fruits, vegetables, and all of our meat from three miles down the road.

It took a little time, but we now eat better food than ever before. I cook every day, using as many local products as possible, and during the colder months, I use what I have preserved during the summer. This past summer, I canned over 100 quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. This past weekend, I learned how to make homemade yogurt, and for $2.00, made a gallon of fresh yogurt. We enjoy it every morning, usually with jams I canned during the summer. It’s easy, and tastes better than any yogurt I have been able to purchase anywhere.

I feared we would be forced to eat bologna sandwiches, and use only frozen vegetables when we first arrived. What I naively thought was a wasteland for the food to which I was accustomed turned out to offer fresher and more interesting food than I had ever prepared in Pittsburgh. I still miss the restaurants, but their lack of availability has stretched me to learn methods of cooking I never before tried. Cooking is something I love, and I especially enjoy sharing food with friends and family. It isn’t unusual for me to spend a couple of hours a day researching new methods of cooking, and then preparing it the next day. Shopping from local farms and spending all the time I need to prepare our food is a true luxury. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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