[box]Known for: unrivaled pies, fresh produce and a great attitude
Years as a vendor at the Charlottesville City Market: 8
Why sell at the market: “I just love it. I love the people, I love the atmosphere. It’s simple. I just love it.”[/box]
Elena Day grew up eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Her Italian mother made food from scratch every day and instilled in her daughter a passion for all things simple and fresh. Elena herself was born in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, in the city of Torino, a sometimes forgotten tourist destination, but moved to Trenton, New Jersey in 1951 where she remembers admiring the myriad of ongoing and crowded farmers markets.
Her home, where she has lived with her husband and now-grown children for more than 30 years, is a small brick cottage with a large backyard that she transformed into a produce haven complete with 12 chickens and 24 adorable chicks. “I’ve always had a garden,” she says and growing food without chemicals became a very important personal missive.
Walking along rows and rows of gorgeous buttery lettuce and cabbage in her small yet impressive garden, Elena admits that it costs more to grow chemical-free, but says the taste of untreated food is so radically better, it is worth every penny. “I am very opposed to Monsanto and other companies using chemicals,” she says referring to Monsanto’s produce market monopoly and new techniques to genetically modify seeds.
Even when baking her famous pies, Elena has an eye towards supporting small, local ventures like her own. For Elena, the Local Food Hub has filled a gap and has raised the profiles of farmers around Central Virginia. “My pies are made with local fruits. I don’t go out and get strawberries from California,” she says proudly. In fact, her strawberry rhubarb pie is filled to the brink with her own rhubarb, grown in her other garden in Rappannock County—“It’s a much cooler climate”—and locally grown strawberries.
Her luscious apple pie has even a bit of an historic taste: when in season, Elena bakes with Albemarle Pippins, a tart, “not particularly attractive” apple variety that dates back to the 1700s, is said to have been gifted to Queen Victoria, and was cultivated by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
With an almost imperceptible English accent, Elena practices her still fluent Italian recounting her favorite dishes and the hours spent observing her mother at the stove. “My favorite kitchen utensil is Italian. It’s called a mezzaluna,” she says holding a half-moon shaped, one-blade curved knife used daily in Italian kitchens for mincing onions, garlic and parsley. One of the favorite dishes to cook, and eat, is roasted bell peppers drizzled with olive oil, salt and vinegar. But a simple salad with her own lettuce and onions is a staple of the Day household. “We eat salad every day of the year, even in December.”
A biology major at Mary Washington and a medical technician at U.Va. for many years, Elena has established a small, sustainable venture. When asked about her desire for the future of the market, she smiles and pauses. “I want them to declare a permanent space for the market before I am dead,” she says.