Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Tomato

Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Tomato

Article excerpt

The Amagansett Farmers Market used to be the sort of place where you bought tomatoes, not heirlooms, nothing was described as artisanal, and if you needed some Clorox or a newspaper you could find that, too. But last year Pat Struk, who started the market in 1954, decided that she had had enough, and she didn't open up as usual this spring. She had put the business, along with nine acres of farmland behind it, up for sale. Margaret de Cuevas, a local conservationist, bought it in cooperation with the town and leased it to the Peconic Land Trust, which pledged to continue operating the place as a farmers' market selling local produce. The trust then subleased the parcel to Eli Zabar, which a lot of people took as one more sign that the Hamptons had given up any pretense of being anything other than an extremely inconvenient suburb of Manhattan, populated by people who think nothing of spending five dollars for a tomato. Zabar's three gourmet stores in Manhattan--E.A.T., the Vinegar Factory, and Eli's Manhattan--are not the sort of places people dash into to buy soap. Imported organic truffles are more in his line.

Zabar was determined to renovate and reopen the market by the beginning of August, and he made it, sort of. On August 1st, Zabar put an "Open" sign out front, and set up a stand with coffee, bagels, and pastry, so that the tradition of eating breakfast on the grass next to the market could resume. Inside, construction crews were hammering, and employees were stocking refrigerator cases with prepared foods that had been shipped from Zabar's city stores, which many locals did not consider a good sign. Neither was the fact that the cashiers seemed to have no idea what the prices were. Zabar, a short, youngish-looking man with gray hair and a lot of nervous energy, paced around, talking on his cell phone and greeting customers, many of whom he knew from Manhattan. The place had the air of a dress rehearsal, with the customers playing themselves.

A man walked up to the register holding a small box of heirloom tomatoes and a head of lettuce. "How much are these tomatoes?" the cashier asked, directing the question to anyone within range of his voice. "Seven ninety-nine a pound," a woman said. The cashier weighed the tomatoes, and told the man that the price of his box, which contained about five small tomatoes, would be $14. …

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