I have a confession: if I never had to participate in another farmers market again, I would not shed a tear. This is a complicated point of entry and I hope to fully explain myself in the remaining ramble of this post. That statement might shock you, might offend you, but nonetheless, it is true. That statement might also confuse you, since I try my best to be chipper and chatty with our customers. That part is genuine. But despite the enjoyment and fulfillment of interacting with people who I truly appreciate, respect and adore, I still loathe the process of "doing" market.
The farmers market has this strange dual existence. There is what the customer sees and what the vendors see. The customers see tidy rows of tents and tables, artfully arranged displays and veggies in neat little bunches and boxes. They see smiles on the faces of their favorite farmers, clean clothes and and hands. They see produce out of the ground, meat off the bones and milk in the bottles. They only see the faintest glimmers of what each farm is truly like.
Then, there are the vendors. From where we stand, we see the the hours of sweat and toil that happened well before market began. We see the slow oil leak in the tank of the truck before we leave the farm that must be dealt with. We see fellow vendors decide not to show up to market last minute without warning, leaving gaps in the rows, We see other vendors who show up early to shoot the bull because they only have one table to set up and hired help to do the rest. We see customers who have never been to the market before show up early to check it out, expecting to be able to buy from us. When they discover that we cannot sell to them until the bell is rung, they leave in frustration, saying, "Well, I'll just have to go to Wegman's then!" We see a customer perched high on a horse approach us, asking if we are an organic farm. When we answer no, they turn away with a huff and ride off into the sunset before we even have a chance to explain.
At the market meetings, we see very little camaraderie and an overall lack of interest. So many of us have such full plates with our own farming operations, that the discussions at meetings often seem trivial. There are so many opposing points of view, decisions are rarely made and enacting change is a process akin to watching paint dry on a wall. When the time comes to elect new officers, we have to pull teeth and back people into corners. A handful of vendors are able to scrape by without ever or rarely attending meetings and some have never held an office or sat on a committee.
We notice a growing trend in our farming community that will most likely increase over time. We are one of the few who make a living solely off of our farm. And we are one of the even fewer who have farmed for more than one generation. Many vendors in our local markets have started to farm as a hobby, a side job or as a second career. Many vendors are first generation farmers, who had little or no experience with farming in their previous lives. As our farming community ages and many younger people born into farming choose to turn away from it, we certainly need more people to enter the game. It's heartening to see both younger and older people with no farming backgrounds heed the call to earn a living off the land. We need players. However the side of this new wave that is often overlooked is that some have perspectives which are vastly different from those who rely on the land as their primary source of income. There are some who who know the nature of hard work and endurance and there are those who enter the field with a naivete that is both potentially helpful and troublesome. Those with a real passion for the work will often find ways to deal with the mental and physical abuse of farming. But those who are in it to dabble often make ill-informed choices or become dishonest - with others and themselves.
I don't mean for this to be a Kitchen Confidential-themed post. But in order to fully explain my relationship with farmers markets, I must pull back the mask a bit. The farmers that make up farmers markets are imperfect human beings, just like everybody else, and therefore the markets are imperfect. And that's ok. The challenge, for me anyway, is to accept all these things as they are. I have to accept that we must sail on both calm seas and turbulent waters. Change is this constantly occurring thing; I myself am in the throws of continual sea changes that affect how I feel and how I perceive the world.
What I'm beginning to realize is that for whatever reason, be it age or influence, I am becoming less able to sugar coat things. I am becoming less able to veil my true thoughts and emotions, for better or worse. I see customers come to the farmers markets, looking for honesty in a sense. Our world has become so increasingly complex, there is a desire to return to simple things. There is a desire to reconnect with small farmers and makers, a desire to glorify the little guy. I endorse this desire, but I also want to inform it. The little guy is not perfect either, but choosing to support small, family operations is a principled intention full of integrity. This is what I almost have to chant, to keep at the forefront of my mind at all times, particularly during market season. Farmers markets matter. They are the final barrier between us and oblivion. Dramatic as that may sound, when the entrepreneurs are snuffed out, that's when we need to be afraid. And the customers - the ones who clammer for local, local, local - they are also imperfect. But they are our champions. The supply does not exist without the demand. And farmers markets make it happen - they are the connection. The markets remind me that as much as I think I want to live in the remote wilderness, removed from humanity, it is not a sustainable or realistic dream. We are nothing without connection, without community. We do no exist without each other.
Makes 1 dozen doughnut rings
Adapted from Mark Bittman + Alton Brown
For the doughnuts
1 1/4 cups (10 fl oz) whole milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
2 large eggs
1 stick (4 oz, 113 g, 8 tbsp) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1.75 oz, 50 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt
4 1/2 cups (19 1/8 oz, 540 g) bread flour, plus extra
Neutral oil, for frying
For the vanilla glaze
2 cups (8 oz, 227 g) confectioner's sugar
1/4 - 1/3 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
For the chocolate glaze
1/4 cup (2 oz, 57 g) unsalted butter
2 tbsp whole milk
1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 oz, 57 g) chocolate, chopped
1 cup (3 oz, 114 g) confectioner's sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
For the doughnuts
Lightly grease a large bowl for the dough to rest and rise in and set it aside.
Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Warm the milk and pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer, along with the yeast sugar and salt. Whisk in the melted butter and eggs. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy, sticky dough forms.
Attach a dough hook to a stand mixer, then knead the doughnut dough on medium low speed for about 6-8 minutes. The dough will be sticky. Every couple of minutes, scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl and the hook, dust with a bit of flour and continue to knead until the dough is supple and bounces back when you press into it with a floured finger.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface. Shape it into a ball and set it seam sit up into the greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let it rest for about 1 hour in a warm, draft free place.
Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn the dough out onto it. The dough will have risen and be very soft with a slight tack to it. Flour the top of the dough lightly and roll it out no more than about 1/2" thick. Using a 3" round cookie cutter, cut as many doughnut rounds as possible. Using a small, 1" round cookie cutter, cut out the center parts of the rounds. Transfer the doughnut rings to sheet tray lined with parchment.
Re-roll the dough once more and continue to cut out rings. I do not advise re-rolling the dough again, as it tends to get tough.
When all the doughnut rings are cut, cover the tray with plastic wrap so they can rest. If you plan an frying right away, let them rest for about an hour. If you want to fry the next day, wrap them tightly and let them rise slowly in the fridge overnight.
When you are ready to fry the doughnuts, heat a pot of oil to 350 F. Fry no more than three or four at a time. Add the doughnut rings gently to the oil and let them fry for about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes per side. After one batch is fried, transfer them to a paper-towel lined tray and continue with the remaining rings. Let them cool while you make the glaze.
For the vanilla glaze
Start with adding 1/4 cup of milk to the powdered sugar and whisk to combine. If you want a thinner glaze, add a touch more milk. Whisk in the vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.
For the chocolate glaze
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Whisk in the milk and corn syrup. When the whole mixture is warm, add the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted. Finally, whisk in the confectioner's sugar. Be sure that it is sifted, otherwise you will have lumps in the glaze. Off the heat, whisk in the vanilla and pinch of salt.
While the glaze is still warm, dip the doughnuts into it. Gently turn them to coat the entire doughnut, or just dip the tops. Transfer the glazed doughnuts to a wire rack on a tray to let the glaze drip and harden. Best eaten on the first day!