By Karen Cord Taylor
Downtown Boston residents have embraced the Boston Public Market. It arrived along the Greenway at the right time. Food-lovers were tired of the agriculture-industrial complex and wanted their food to be real, local, maybe organic. They were repelled by the whipped-petroleum products lining the shelves in traditional supermarkets.
I’ve been to the market many times. The smoked fish and the lettuce are favorites, but I had never shopped there seriously, thinking it wouldn’t be possible. Then I talked to Beacon Hill resident Leslie Adam, who said she and a Back Bay friend do almost all their grocery shopping for their families weekly at the Boston Public Market.
So I went with Leslie on a recent Wednesday to see how she does it. First, she drives. She usually goes first thing in the morning. This time, however, we left about 11 a.m. and the parking garage was full. After waiting in a short line for cars to leave, we drove in, parked and were off. Leslie said Sunday mornings at 8 a.m. is her favorite time to go. With few other shoppers, she has the run of the place. In the summer, she often bikes over.
Leslie has two children, a husband and sometimes friends to feed. We headed for the back of the market because she likes to buy her bread, located near the main entrance, as she leaves so it won’t be crushed at the bottom of the bags she carries with her.
Sometimes Leslie brings along a list or recipes, but at other times she lets what is available speak to her.
On the way to the back, we stopped at two pop-up shops that spoke to her. Leslie bought popovers from The Popover Lady, based in Melrose, because she knew her kids would like them. She also stopped at ParTea, where owner Sarah Wasser told us she had combined her experience as a bartender with her love for tea and created natural infusions in tea-bag like packets for booze. Leslie decided such drinks might be a conversation starter for guests so she bought a ginger infusion. Like most of the vendors, the women running the pop-up shops ran Leslie’s credit card through Square on their phones or iPads.
Red’s Best was next. The counter man suggested redfish, caught on a Gloucester fishing boat, for good fish tacos. Leslie decided tacos would be tonight’s dinner. She also got salmon raised in the Bay of Fundy.
She pointed out the Spindrift bottles, filled with berries and sparkling water, in a refrigerated case in front of Red’s Best. She has met Bill Creelman, the Charlestown resident who created them.
Leslie bought eggs and both fresh and frozen meats—pork loin, chicken breasts and ground beef—from Stillman Quality Meats and Chestnut Farms. Her kids like the frozen pulled pork from Lilac Hedge, which she heats and piles in buns for lunches. Today, however, because the children’s schedules during the coming week meant lunch would be elsewhere, she went on to choose New Braintree-based Stillman Farms’ fresh spinach, sweet potatoes and squash, already peeled.
She bought roasted red pepper ravioli at Nella’s and smoked haddock for kedgeree—Leslie’s husband is British— and salmon belly at Boston Smoked Fish Company. She got Hardwick Stone cheese at Appleton Farms so her daughter could make the cheese sandwiches she has begun grilling for breakfast.
Around the corner we admired the dramatic tulips, the cider syrup—good on pork, said Leslie—honey and smoked maple syrup and caramels. Leslie didn’t buy any of those on our trip, but she said they were all were fabulous.
We ended our shop with a Harbison cheese from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, salad greens from Corner Stalk Farm in East Boston and two loaves of bread from Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery in Winchester.
Leslie had most of the food she will need for the week. She’ll have to stop elsewhere for such staples as bananas, avocados and oranges, but it takes only a short time, she said, to fill in the blanks.
Leslie admits it is usually more expensive to shop at the Boston Public Market, but she does not want her children eating produce sprayed with who-knows-what. She also likes her money going into the local economy.
We paid only a dollar for parking since we had been there less than an hour and had validated the ticket. A bike delivery service is available for those who don’t want to schlep bags home.
One way to shop at the Boston Public Market in a more frugal way is to buy at the market the products that you really can’t live without and then go out the door. On Fridays and Saturdays, the traditional Haymarket carts and vendors are right outside with the best prices anywhere. You’ll get the best of both worlds.