The woods look drab this time of year in Georgia, even for a naturalist like me. I satisfied my hunger for the natural world by visiting the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market instead of taking a stroll through a winter-dulled park. Most people don’t think about this when they go grocery shopping, but every vegetable, fruit, and animal product in the store descends from a species that lived during the Pleistocene. The stories behind the origins of each could fill volumes of history, but I’m just going to focus on a couple I noticed on this visit.
The Buford Highway Farmer’s Market in Doraville (a suburb swallowed by Atlanta’s suburban sprawl). It was featured on Andrew Zimmern’s series Bizarre Foods.
The Buford Highway Farmer’s Market is located in Doraville, Georgia; a former suburb of Atlanta that’s been engulfed by that city’s sprawl. The store is just off the I-285 bypass at Exit 32. The produce section is enormous with high quality fruits and vegetables from around the world.
The produce section is huge. This is just half of it.
There were some items I’d never seen before including white immature coconuts, spiny chayotes, and fresh jackfruit. The size of the jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) surprised me. They look like a fruit for a giant species of megafauna, and indeed elephants do feed on them. The jackfruit belongs to the same family as mulberries and figs. I didn’t purchase any because 1 jackfruit could feed a family of 20. I have eaten canned and dried jackfruit. They are very sweet and have a texture similar to pineapple but the taste is unique. Jackfruit is native to the tropical forests of southwestern India, but man has spread them throughout tropical Asia, Africa, and Brazil. Jackfruit trees grow wild as an invasive species in Brazil where coatimundi and monkey populations have benefited from the abundant new source of fruit. The coatimundis and monkeys also eat birds’ eggs, so bird populations decline in Brazilian jackfruit forests. Jackfruits have been cultivated for thousands of years–nobody knows exactly when they were first deliberately planted by man.
Jackfruit is as large or larger than watermelon. Looks like just the right size for an elephant.
Here’s video of an elephant eating jackfruit in India.
This is the first time I’d ever seen white coconuts.
Beyond the amazing produce aisle, the store is divided into ethnic sections–Mexican, Eastern European, American, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. I found some delicious kimchi in the Korean wing of the store. Kimchi is the national condiment of Korea made from fermented napa cabbage, daikon (a long radish), green onions, red hot peppers, ginger, fish sauce, and salt. I love it. Kimchi has been made for thousands of years but 1 important ingredient–red pepper–wasn’t used until its introduction to the region in 1598. Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa Pekinese) is not actually a cabbage (Brassica oleracea) but rather a turnip bred for the luscious stem and leaves instead of the root. The same holds true for bok choy (B. rapa. chinensis). The brassica family also includes mustards. Brassica pollen is often found in Pleistocene-aged pollen samples. During the Ice Ages wild cabbage, turnip, and mustard grew in temperate region wet meadows.
These are some of the goodies I purchased. Honey which ironically is from an apiary in Waynesboro 30 minutes from my house, sweet potato chips, cod liver in a can from Norway, and kimchi imported from Korea. The kimchi is so good it sent me into ecstasy not unlike the look on the face of Freddie King (on the cd cover below the canned cod liver). He is one of the greatest electric guitar players of all time.
The flavor of kimchi depends upon a fermenting bacteria known as Lactobacillus kimchii. This is not unusual–cheese and sourdough bread require fermenting bacteria to give them flavor. I like to mix kimchi with cream cheese and eat it on crackers. The spicy acidity of the kimchi plays well with the rich fat of the cream cheese. The flavor of kimchi varies with its region of origin. I’ve had some so salty I considered it inedible but the brand in the above photo is excellent. I’ve also made my own from vegetables I grew in my garden including napa cabbage, turnip, and hot red peppers. I added ginger and salt. It was good and got even better when I let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks to develop the funky flavor.
The only unusual food I purchased was canned cod liver imported from Norway. I’ve never eaten fish liver before. I’m planning on breading and frying it. I’m not afraid of fish organs.