Editor’s Notebook: Thyme on my hands

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by Brian Clarey

On a frantic Saturday morning, when it came time to gather the ingredients for my contribution to the Easter feast (see this week’s Food story on page 20), I returned to the scene of the crime: the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, where I first got the notion to make lamb stew for the big, family gathering.

I’ve been hanging out there lately on Saturday mornings to hand out newspapers, buy cheap and fresh produce and chat up like-minded foodies. So I know you’ve got to get there early if you want to get the choice pickings, particularly this time of year when the weekly harvests can be as fickle as a fourth-grader.

A key ingredient to my recipe was thyme, which is just coming in season, and true enough, several purveyors at Saturday’s market had fresh sprigs of the piney herb….

But they didn’t have very much of it. By the time I got to market, the three thyme dealers were down to a just a few bags of varying quality and price, none of which could be considered a proper bunch.

They were running out of thyme.

And there, standing under the steel girders that buttress the city’s longest-running tradition of commerce, where farmers and townsfolk have been haggling over the price of greens since 1874, I decided to make a play at cornering the local thyme market.

I realized I could buy every sprig of thyme in the joint for about $25, on the day before Easter!

I’d clear the vendors out of their thyme, which was moving at a brisk pace between $1.50 and $3 a pop. I’d have maybe 10 bags on my hands, two of which I’d need to make my stew and I figured I’d hoard a third for myself, just in case.

I could move the last seven bags for $5 apiece, I thought, maybe more as supply dried up. That last bag of thyme… well jeez… there was no telling what that would fetch.

I bought the last bag at one farmer’s stand for $1.50 — Sucker! — and wiped out another’s last two bags for a mere $4. On my way!

But a funny thing happened as I approached my little monopoly on Yanceyville Street: I got some inside information.

As one farmer offered her last three bags, she made mention that the crop was brand new.

“It’s just coming up,” she said. “I’ll have a lot more next week.”

She assured me it would be more lush and fragrant than this week’s pickings.

And that’s the rub. I was a fool to think I could play the spice market. So I took my herbs and went home.