YES! Weekly’s Ten Best Buys at the Farmers’ Curb Market
Sometime during the childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ house in El Paso, Texas I developed quite a taste for chilies. As the years passed, the penchant turned into a full-fledged addiction, complete with an increasing tolerance. It must have been the chili monkey on my back that, upon entering Greensboro’s Farmers’ Curb Market, immediately turned my attention to the tempting red fingers tucked in amongst the demure squashes and cabbages. At one dollar a pound, these beauties will last even me a little while.
By late June, the peak of springtime blackberry season has passed. But visitors to Wednesday’s farmers market could still sample the fruits of the late harvest offered by one of the vendors. The dark, juicy fruits resemble bejeweled brooches. A lone blackberry seller toured the skimpy weekday crowd offering tastes to the browsers. The tactic worked flawlessly; shortly afterward baskets of the berries disappeared from their pyramid stack.
Plenty of Greensboro residents have only a passing acquaintance with the USDA’s food pyramid ‘— a suggested model for the American diet heavy on fruits, vegetables and big agriculture influence. These folks need not feel out of place in the produce-dominated farmers market. Many vendors tuck homemade fried pies near the registers. So far the USDA has not seen fit to add a food group devoted to this Southern confection, but the popular dish of overripe fruit and pastry has definitely found a niche in the small-scale agriculture economy.
Smoked slab bacon
The cooler on the Ward family booth is, befitting its purpose, filled with ice. Within it, tubes of various pork products bobbed like so many perverted beverages. I opt for some locally raised slab bacon hiding out somewhere underneath the ground sausage. It’s a rare treat in a household where meat doesn’t often grace serving plates. And knowing that family farmers prepared the bacon without the aid of hormones or excessive antibiotics makes me feel a little better about eating it.
This hardy starch most closely associated with the Irish actually originated in the farms of the New World. It’s a root vegetable, and as such has a long growing season. A small basket costs a couple of bucks. These taters, having been unearthed from farmlands not too far away, still have a dusting of red Carolina dirt.
Wednesday isn’t the best day to go to the farmers market if you’re planning to experience the full range of local agricultural diversity. Only a small corner of the cavernous building houses vendors. Still, one look at their wares exposes the rigid conformity enforced in the produce sections of most grocery stores. The pickling cucumbers ‘— palm-sized, warty and eccentric cousins of the more well-known and homogenous slicing cucumber ‘— demonstrate this better than any other vegetable at the market. Although I’m inclined to buy a few for purely aesthetic reasons, I decline due to my lack of pickling time or know-how.
Sad lemon pound cake
I like a cake with a story. I was passing by a small display of baked goods when the vendor, a grandmotherly type, explained the situation of this melancholy-looking half circle. Turns out a flour shortage had caused the baker to improvise. She had to use a different variety of flour, which in turn caused the usually buoyant cake to fall. In addition to the tale, the vendor lured me in by offering a deep discount, virtually assuring a sale. It turns out that structural integrity doesn’t matter very much. This cake tastes as good as any I’ve ever had.
The family selling fried cornbread also has baked offerings ranging from brownies to biscuits (strawberry, sweet potato and buttermilk among others). Farmers markets are by their nature an early morning endeavor, so I picked up the cornbread as a substitute for the breakfast I skipped. The imperfect yellow rounds bear the marks of home cooking: uneven browning, untrimmed edges and lopsided shape. They taste lovingly homemade as well, savory and satisfying.
I had a friend who regularly swept the farmers market near closing time at noon on Saturday to pick up any remaining fresh flowers vendors were willing to unload cheap. Every week she refreshed sagging bouquets with a selection of lilies, roses and tulips. Unfortunately, most of the plants on sale Wednesday were of the potted variety. Lovers of cut flowers would do better to wait for the weekend.
100 Grand candy bar
If being surrounded by small farmers, local bakers and family creameries gets you a little spooked, you can always retreat to the comfort of mass-produced foodstuffs. Even the organic haven of the Greensboro Curbside Farmers Market has a dark corner devoted to vending machines stocked with your favorite Hershey, Nestle and Coke products. It’s good to know they are there perhaps, but on Wednesday morning the candy and drink machines didn’t seem to be getting much business.