Winter has always traumatized New Englanders, but because of the economy (thanks, rapacious mortgage-bundling douche bags!), this past season was particularly grim. If you're anything like us, you spent the hibernation months of '09 filling your discontented belly with cheap-ass comfort foods like ramen noodles and Taco Bell Crunchwraps. But it's summer now, and even though you're still broke, you have options beyond the quickie, in-out-of-the-cold fast-food garbage: there's cheap and healthy food brought almost to your doorstep, straight from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and the like. So snap out of your sodium coma and stop stuffing dollar bills into Mickey D's G-string for those "value meals." You can get real value by visiting the outdoor markets popping up on almost every corner through October. Follow our guide and you should be rolling in fresh produce and sustainably raised meat for months.
COPLEY SQUARE In order to reach this bustling market on my late-May trek, I had to first wade through a gauntlet of warm-weather-emboldened MASSPIRGers, panhandlers, and testy anti-war protesters. A mother lode of locally hewn goodies awaited me. On the carbohydrate front, Breadsong Bakery battled for my attention with Iggy's peddled crusty loaves, while the Danish Pastry House offered sweet-toothers cookies and crunchy almond clusters. As for bread spreads, I was torn between Crystal Brook Farm's herb-studded chevre (wrung from their own Saanen and Alpine goats), and Deborah's Kitchen jams (which, at $3 to $7 a jar, are worth the splurge; a broke-ass summer of PB&J is a hell of a lot better when the "J" comprises the berry ambrosia that is "Massachusetts Rubies"). At the stand for Siena Farms (Oleana chef Ana Sortun's CSA farm in Sudbury), the bins overflowed with rhubarb ($4/pound), green garlic ($1 each), Boston lettuce ($3/head), and bundles of irises. In addition to the greens — I ended up snagging a humongo bag of spinach for $4 — the stand's shelves were packed with goodies from Sortun's Sofra bakery, including pickles and Persian spice blends.
BEST FIND Cider donuts from the Apple Barn (New Salem, Massachusetts)
HARVARD SQUARE Situated next to the Charles Hotel, this modest outpost may boast only a few stalls, but it packs a wallop. In fact, you can actually smell this market long before you catch a glimpse of it. That's thanks to Q's Nuts, whose on-site open-flame nut roaster, on the day of my visit, kicked up an irresistible aroma of caramelizing sugar. "I'm all sweets over here," announced the guy manning Q's nut cauldron. At 11 am on Sunday, the market was abuzz with O.G. Cantabrigian earth muffins and sinewy yuppies clutching jogging strollers, dogs, and/or yoga-mat-sprouting tote bags. For them, Hi-Rise Bakery was selling the crunchiest granola the People's Republic has to offer ($6), in addition to boules of whole grain, raisin-pecan, and cheddar-pepper breads ($4 to $8) and a formidable array of preserves (raspberry, fig-chocolate, strawberry, cherry, and plum-orange; $7 to $12). Nearby, the horticulturally inclined swarmed Grateful Farm's booth for its seedlings and potted herbs ($3.50/each; $6/two); the less ambitious, meanwhile, were free to peruse freshly cut spearmint, rosemary, and sage ($2/bunch).
BEST FIND Purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes from Grateful Farm (Franklin, Massachusetts)