It’s not a good idea to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. It’s a bad idea to go grocery shopping when you’re fasting. Still hours away from sundown on Yom Kippur, I wandered into Edge of the Woods. “Wandered” may not actually convey the mind-set upon entering a store that is five minutes by car beyond Dwight Street, but within 30 seconds of being there, I was meandering with the complacent awe of a five-year-old at the Museum of Natural History.
The aisles of organic produce end in a juice bar and Kosher bakery. Upstairs, Dr. Brommer’s Magic “I Started My Own Religion on the Label of My Soap” Soap is sold by the gallon alongside thousands of vials of homeopathic remedies. It’s enough to bring out the vegan, ailing-but-distrustful-of-antibiotics Orthodox Jew in all of us.
Edge of the Woods carries six breeds of pears and plums, 11 varieties of apples and 10 species of squash, including Dumpling Squash and the lipstick-colored Red Kuri Squash. Potatoes run the gamut in both type and color: Buttery, fluffy Yukon Golds abut little New Potatoes and mingle with the purple variety that magazine Bon Appetit suggests for use in a “Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad.” The editors assure us that the purple adds to the “All-American look.” Still fasting, I couldn’t participate in this chromatic display of patriotism.
I wandered over to the granola aisle, where 18 varieties compete for attention. The promising Organic Ginger Snap, I discovered after sundown, tastes like a slightly gingery Honey Bunches of Oats. The Coconut Almond resembles its advertised ingredients more closely, and it has that unsinkable sweetness that makes you wonder how granola can actually be so good for you. (It isn’t.) Both, however, offer a crunchy breather from the monotony of Yale granola, which is rumored to be deep-fried and more than rumored to have an excess of raisins in every handful. Any of the 18 granolas can be mixed with the fresh-mashed, “Olde Style” peanut butter down the aisle for a spread that you’ll be chewing for weeks.
Edge of the Woods also offers a promising selection for the processed-food-inclined. In the spirit of the diet book from the 80’s, “How to Make All the Meat You Eat Out of Wheat,” they sell a host of less palatable items in the shapes of more palatable items: chick-pea hamburgers, kale potato chips and protein-based low-carb pasta are but a few examples. All of these products, I imagine, come from the same factory: a low, gray building where vegetable-based chemicals are dumped by the gallon into food-shaped molds. These foods all taste more or less the same, but at least they’re prohibitively expensive!
If you stay away from anything frozen or in a shiny box, Edge of the Woods has more to offer. In this regard, fasting saved me. I was drawn by want of food to the items that looked most ready for immediate consumption: piles of fruit, cakes in the Kosher bakery, and fresh peanut butter. It was all I could do to not put my hand under the peanut-butter dispenser and cut out the plastic container middle-man. The secret is that these fresh items are both more numerous and less expensive than their counterparts at Shaw’s. Shaw’s, true to the stellar service that a reliable customer base and total dearth of competition suggests, sells hard, jaundicey limes at almost a dollar a pop. At Edge of the Woods, the citrus is ripe and cheap: Limes come in at 18 cents each.
Good produce on the cheap saves Edge of the Woods from the fate that the homeopathic apothecary upstairs would otherwise ensure: Fresh herbs for pennies means that the store is not a vegan ghetto but a land of seasonal promise. As the cashier explained, Edge of the Woods draws a crowd diverse in terms of race and class, bringing fresh vegetables to those who can’t make it to the farmer’s market.
The only snobbishness at the store surrounds the Challah, a shiny, braided Shabbas-bread in apparent high demand. I went naively to the counter one Friday afternoon and asked for a loaf. “What’s your name?” the man asked.
“Rebecca,” I said uncertainly. His curiosity seemed sweet but irrelevant.
“We don’t have a loaf for you. Did you order one?” I understood.
“No, no, but can’t I just buy one?” He stifled a laugh and exchanged glances with another cashier.
Apparently, Edge of the Woods Challah must be ordered in advance. It is, of course, worth the trouble. The soft yellow dough hangs lazily from the gleaming brown crust as you pull of a hunk, thankful that the fast only happens once a year.