In the summer of 1971, I worked for the United Farm Workers Detroit boycott office. One of my jobs was to go to Eastern Market every day at 5 a.m. and scout for scab grapes. If there were none, I could go home and sleep. Otherwise, we would organize picket lines.
Saturday morning is Eastern Markets glory. In its purest form, it is the day when the consumer is able to buy directly from the farmer.
In reality, there is a mix of farmers and "dealers." Dealers resell produce purchased either from the markets wholesale vendors or from the Fort Street Produce Terminal (my second stop for the Farm Workers).
It is the Saturday market that writers Lois Johnson and Margaret Thomas have captured in a new book titled Detroits Eastern Market: A Farmers Market Shopping and Cooking Guide.
"No one has ever written a book about the market," Johnson comments. "Its been a silent world."
The book opens with an examinaton of the markets 100-year history, discusses the stores and restaurants that circle the perimeter of the market, and interviews some of the vendors who are regulars on Saturdays.
Many vendors began selling at the market as children, working in their parents or grandparents stalls.
The book also documents historic events such as the Corned Beef War of 1975, when two butchers undercut each others prices until Ronnies Quality Meat wound up giving their corned beef away.
The authors say they consciously decided to omit discussion of the markets often whispered-about seamy side. "Thats another book," says Johnson.
The second half of the book consists of recipes collected from market vendors and customers. Johnson is enthusiastic about the recipe for beet cake contributed by Helen Penzien, who grows beets in Imlay City.
Johnson is a 30-year Eastern Market enthusiast who lives in Pleasant Ridge. Co-author Thomas lives near the market. The two worked on the self-published book for four years.
"Whats been most gratifying about writing the book is the reaction from the market people," says Johnson. "Theyre so excited."
And the response to the book has been phenomenal. It was launched with a signing last October in front of Flat Planet, a pizzeria in the market.
"We averaged a book a minute for three and a half hours," Johnson recalls. "People were lined up to buy it."
The first printing of 1,000 copies is almost sold out, and the authors are contemplating a second edition. "This has stirred a pot," Johnson said. "People are coming forward with stories."
An obvious must for market lovers, the book sells for $14.95 and is available at Borders, Hudsons and R Hirts in the market, or from the authors. Call 313-259-9831 or 248-545-1215.
January, according to the Bread Machine Industry Association, is National Bread Machine Baking Month (presumably to celebrate all those bread machines Americans receive as holiday gifts). Haul out your old machine and try a new recipe or two you can find plenty at www.breadmachine.com, or check out the fun projects in Electric Bread for Kids by Innovative Cooking Enterprises. Its even got recipes for multicolored bread that looks as fun as it tastes. Order from www.electricbread.com. ... Got extra Y2K food stockpiled? Cant face the thought of eating baked beans for an entire month? Donate your extras to your local food bank or soup kitchen. Call Forgotten Harvest at 248-350-FOOD or the Food Bank of Oakland County at 248-332-1473.