When Whole Foods and the Red Horse Market both opened in time for Memorial Day, my theory that East Hampton has one too many of everything seemed borne out. I harrumphed when I noticed that Whole Foods, clearly not a farm stand, is calling itself one (I suppose because it does not intend to carry as many groceries as it does elsewhere). Still, I was impressed when word went out of a well-targeted marketing come-on: orchids for sale for $10 apiece.
I wasn’t really surprised that the Italian-specialty outpost of Citarella, which was in the Red Horse space for a few years, didn’t last, but its demise may have been simply a case of bad timing: Had Joe Guerrera waited until this year to launch it as an addition to the Main Street Citarella branch, it might have made it. The demographic gurus for Whole Foods and the Red Horse are calculating that the economic tide may have turned. We certainly all hope they are right.
Judging by the crowds over Memorial Day weekend, there might be more people here “in season” than ever. Casting your eyes around the gourmet-foods shops, you’d never know there are families in town having trouble affording groceries. The latest summer crowds are those who, recession or not, have money to burn. (Or could it be we are witnessing a local bubble of a different kind — a merchandizing rather than a housing bubble?)
When the first Citarella opened on the South Fork, I avoided it and made it a rule never to buy fish there. Call it chauvinism: I just didn’t like the store’s expansive counters of apparently every fish that could possibly be transported here. East End waters — and fishermen and shops — provide an extraordinary variety already. What we can find at the small seafood shops here is, I think, incomparable; shouldn’t what is really local be enough? But even after the Water Mill Citarella closed, the one in Bridgehampton opened, and the two emporiums of anything-you-can-get-in-the-city seem to be thriving, regardless of my gimlet-eyed objections.
It’s a wonderful thing that true farm stands and farmers markets have proliferated recently, too. (To the point that my husband has now taken to comparison-shopping, checking the prices of different homemade jams and jellies at stands around town.)
We are so lucky that a fair number of agricultural fields — some of which were preserved because the towns and the county purchased development rights — have survived, and not sprouted McMansions.
Now it is strawberry season. But apparently the popularity of supermarket strawberries, in combination with property values, has convinced some East End growers to give up. At Vickie’s Veggies in Amagansett this week, Elaine Jones was surprised to hear that strawberries were still being grown and sold in Wainscott. She gets hers, as do others, from the North Fork. The strawberry fields in East Hampton and Amagansett, Ms. Jones said, have disappeared.
Perhaps farmers are instead planting corn, with which supermarket corn truly cannot compare. Or can it? This winter, someone brought home a neatly plastic-wrapped pack of four ears from lord knows where, their husks stripped away to show that the kernels were uniformly perfect. (Genetically engineered?) To my dismay — yes, dismay — they didn’t taste half bad.
I spent a lot of childhood summers where the evening drill was to go out and pick the corn immediately before putting it in the pot. Those are wonderful memories.
The population of the East End of Long Island was once dominated by farmers and fishermen. Many of us, people and organizations, with government help in some years, have done what we could to promote the preservation of the land and the waters. We know that the inshore fishery is dying. Could it also be that our taste buds are quietly reminding us that the traditional way of life is history?