Stendhal Syndrome, Farmers’ Market Fever, and a Rustic Fruit Crostata

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Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, I came across a wire story that described a rare, peculiar illness. It seemed that certain sensitive souls, upon being exposed to the glorious art of the High Renaissance, were so overcome by the beauty before them that they literally went mad and had to be carted off. The condition has a name: Stendhal Syndrome, after the 19th Century French writer who was seized with it during a visit to Florence. Among the symptoms are a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, confusion, and even hallucination.

Nothing that dramatic happened to me when I went to Florence as a teenager (though I did get a little lightheaded whenever a dark, curly-haired ragazzo buzzed by on a Vespa). Still, I think I know how those people feel. I feel it every Wednesday in summer when I hit my weekly farmers’ market. Undone. Overcome. Driven to the edge of sanity. As if at any moment, between the piles of peaches and mounds of sweet corn, the bins of summer squash and watermelons, the neatly arranged baskets of fat gleaming blackberries and rows of misshapen tomatoes, I might just keel over. It’s too much. Do you know the feeling?

It’s my fault. I am not a disciplined shopper. I don’t plan meals in advance, nor am I a list maker. And so when I arrive at the market with my eco-friendly shopping bags eagerly waiting to be filled, I am, essentially, already a goner. I can’t, for example, pass by a display of sour cherries in early July without picking up a quart. Even though I may have bought two quarts the week before and pitted them and frozen them. Even though I may still have a quart or two in my freezer left over from last year’s harvest (they keep well).

Don’t even mention summer squash–light green, dark green, gold, globe, pattypan, crook-necked. And if the blossoms still happen to be attached…I’m hyperventilating just typing this. It’s the same with eggplant–shiny black, streaky purple, white; and peppers–purple, green, red, yellow, hot, sweet. And all the rest. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and beets; peaches and melons and blackberries and so on. I am unable to resist these things, the way some people are unable to resist new shoes, or sunglasses, or (if you are my brother-in-law) cars.

I have, I’m sorry to say, gone off the rails more than once over the years. I’ve come home with a depleted wallet, weighted down with way more produce (and also grass-fed meat and pastel-hued eggs) than I can ever feed my family in the span of a week. This embarrasses me. It makes me feel guilty and regretful and slightly sick, like I’ve been on a bender. I have let berries get moldy and zucchini and peaches go soft.

So now I have rules. I try very hard to stick to them. I bring a finite, judicious amount of cash. When some stalls started accepting credit cards, I made a rule that I could only use mine to buy meat and eggs (and the occasional whoopie pie) from the Mennonite farmer, leaving the cash for vegetables and fruit. I make myself go to every stall before I buy anything, and I buy only what I plan to use during the week, unless I’m going to freeze or can it. I still have occasional relapses, like I did a couple of weeks ago when I bought too many berries and peaches. What can I say? Somewhere between the rosy blush of the peaches and the blackberries’ gleam my resolve evaporated.

I think I redeemed myself, though, at least a little. Not one berry or peach was allowed to go uneaten or turn moldy. I spooned them over yogurt and my daughter blended them into smoothies. Some went into the freezer and some were used to make another one of these. And whatever was left I turned into this free-form fruit crostata.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m more deeply affected by the fruits and vegetables of summer than I am by the art of the High Renaissance (certainly nothing flattering). It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Florence, and I do intend to go back one day. Just remind me to steer clear of any farmers’ markets.

Makes 6 servings

Rustic Fruit Tart (Crostata Rustica di Frutta)

(copyright 2011 Domenica Cooks)

Just about any stone fruit or summer berry can go into this simple but luscious free-form tart---peaches, nectarines, or apricots, and blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Make sure they are at peak ripeness so their natural sweetness will shine through.


  • For the crust:
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup ice water

  • For the filling:
  • 1 pound ripe peaches, nectarines, or apricots, pitted and cut into wedges
  • 1 cup ripe berries (I like to use half blueberries and half blackberries)
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cream or half-and-half


Make the crust: Combine the flour, granulated sugar, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. Scatter the butter cubes around the bowl and pulse until coarse crumbs form. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water and process until a ball of dough begins to form. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until thoroughly chilled. Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan to roll it out.

Make the tart: Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the peaches and berries in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, and nutmeg, and sprinkle it over the fruit. Gently fold everything together.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 15-inch circle. Carefully roll the circle around the rolling pin and unroll it onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Pile the fruit mixture in the center of the circle, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Dot with the butter. Fold in the edges of the dough to create a pleated border that leaves some of the fruit uncovered. Brush the dough with the cream.

Bake the crostata for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the exposed fruit is tender and browned in spots. Set the baking sheet on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully transfer the crostata to a serving platter. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a little cold fresh cream poured over.

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20 Responses to Stendhal Syndrome, Farmers’ Market Fever, and a Rustic Fruit Crostata

  1. janie July 22, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    I am totally guilty of the same market madness. It’s such a wonderful time of the year and I just can’t help myself!

  2. Kimmy @ Lighter and Local July 22, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    I’m so guilty of this. I, too, keep myself usually to the cash in my wallet, and visit every stall before buying, however, I usually fall victim to the “treats”. The amazing little baked goods, the cider donuts, and usually more produce than I could ever physically prepare.

  3. The Experimental Gourmand July 22, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I am so totally guilty of this, which is why my fridge is full to bursting right now. Fortunately, I could freeze some of the meat, and I have lots of great things with which to make some cool summer salads.

  4. Denise July 22, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I fear that I suffer from farmers’ market syndrome, too, especially at this time of year. In fact, my husband gives me a very strict allowance lest I spend all of our money on produce! We had to get a second freezer to deal with the overflow, but I think it’s well worth it.

  5. Sarah July 22, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Oh my, I am all too familiar with this feeling!! I leave my credit cards at home and only bring $30 with me each week. No joke. I will say, however, that this tart looks like the perfect reason to opt for peaches and berries at tomorrow’s market 🙂

  6. Alicia Sokol July 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I AM a disciplined shopper, planner and list maker…but yes, I know that feeling all too well! Even the prepared market goer is at risk! July is a particularly precarious time for me to be wandering about the markets, no matter how calculated my trip.

    I have to know where there is a Mennonite farmer selling whoopie pies! Do tell. My Mennonite mother made whoopie pies (before they were all the rage) all the time when I was a kid. Talk about coming undone…

    • Domenica July 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Alicia, what a wonderful food tradition to come from. Do you have a family whoopie pie recipe? The farmer I mentioned has a stall at the Sherwood Hall farmers market, near Mount Vernon (not the Old Town Saturday market). Would be happy to take you there anytime!

  7. Domenica July 23, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Janie, Kimmy, Kathy, Denise & Sarah–I’m so glad to know I’m in good company. Best to enjoy it all now, right!?

  8. nancy baggett July 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    I was just shopping for peaches, and, sigh, they didn’t look as lovely as those. But–they do smell fragrant so I’m hopeful.

    BTW, I finally got a chance to really look at your book. It’s beautiful and well-written and I’m enjoying it very much!

    • Domenica July 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      Nancy–so glad you are enjoying the book. That means a lot to me coming from an author who has accomplished as much as you have :

  9. Tracy July 24, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I know the feeling. This morning at the market my senses were overwhelmed—fresh corn! Everything else took a back seat…well, almost everything else. Cucumbers, blackberries, canteloupe, radishes, bread (a muffin or two), milk, and plums seemed to find a place in one of the many bags hanging from my shoulder. But it’s a hot one here in Baltimore. By the time we made it back to the car, we were drenched in sweat. But having a fresh muffin for breakfast and sneaking a tiny plum that was candy sweet, sliding right off it’s stone—well, it was well worth it. It doesn’t last long (And isn’t that what freezers are for?). We all have to get it while it’s hot. Literally.

  10. LiztheChef July 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    So with you here – delightful post.

    • Domenica July 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Aw thanks Liz!

  11. Dianne Jacob July 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    What a terrific lead. I can relate to that guy. I am always in a state of ecstasy at farmer’s markets. No need for drugs! I should figure out how to bottle it. Like you, I have learned how to temper my euphoria with practicality with many of the same rules.

  12. Domenica July 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Thanks Dianne. I love your idea of bottling the euphoria. If only…

  13. Jamie July 28, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Ah, art always did this to me (I studied art history and visits to certain museums made me light headed). And markets do the same. Although my husband never makes a list just buys what is freshest, in season and local and I always go with a list, it is I that loses my head and has to buy everything! Especially with summer fruits! Ah, the cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines and tomatoes! I find myself having to eat so many a day I risk a tummy ache for fear of having bought so many half go bad… and getting a scolding for losing my head. And – aha – I just made a plum galette. What a glorious dessert! Sadly, I am in love with blackberries yet that is one thing we rarely find on our marketplace. Your mixed fruit/berry galette is sublime!

    • Domenica July 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

      Jamie, we are kindred spirits. I love blackberries, too. Even more than I used to. I love them in this tart, but I think my favorite way to enjoy them is just plain fresh and raw, maybe over good Greek yogurt with a little honey drizzled on top. Better than dessert. Thanks for your comment.


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