This is the time of year when just the thought of a farmer’s market can make me taste fresh veggies. Ripe tomatoes, crunchy full-sized carrots, even masses of zucchini.
I have three favorite farmer’s markets: Central Market in Lancaster County, PA; Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, PA; and Soulard Market in St. Louis, MO. Each one has its specialties â€“ the places I make a beeline to the minute I walk through the door.
Lancaster Central Market is located in the heart of downtown Lancaster County â€“ the big city with a heavily rural area encasing it. Not only rural, but with a large Amish and Mennonite population, many of whom either run stands at Market or bring their fresh foods to established markets to sell. It is also the nation’s oldest Farmer’s Market â€“ a distinction that just adds to the romance of shopping within its walls.
I got addicted to the fresh meats at Central Market. Every week we would trek the 17 miles into town and buy freshly sliced turkey, chicken, Lebanon bologna, ham, and sandwich-size slices of pepperoni. Add to that thinly sliced cheese â€“ baby swiss, white American, and delicious provolone. There is nothing better than wrapping a piece of pepperoni and a slice of shaved turkey around a slice of provolone, curling it up like a piece of parchment paper, and delicately munching your way through lunch.
It’s the place I first tasted head cheese (don’t bother) and shoo-fly pie. It’s where just wandering through the aisles makes you giddy with the smells and bustle of food trading hands. Just opening the Central Market Cookbook takes me back there!
Reading Market, for you Monopoly fans, is the old Reading Terminal (as in railroad â€“ the cash cow of ownership if you hold all four cards). Read Reading Terminal Market: An Illustrated History if you’d like more background. It is now filled with stand after stand of fresh produce, hand dipped chocolate, cases of meat, and baked goods. This is where I go for whoopie pies, and sticky buns with raisins and pecans, most made in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition (which is not exactly fat free).
Perhaps because it is located in an area central to the major downtown Philly hotels, it is also a great stop for bellying up to the breakfast bar. Inside Reading Terminal is one of the best short order cook stops I’ve ever found, with good deals on freshly made eggs, turkey bacon, and so much more. Oh, and don’t forget – you can get a real Philly Cheesesteak there, at Rick’s, or try any of about 30 other restaurants.
Then there is Soulard, with its world of spices, mini-doughnuts and fresh vegetables. Asparagus, tomatoes, corn on the cob. Fresh cilantro and other tasty herbs. Scoops of cinnamon and garlic. For a foodie, it’s like being at the Mall of America for the day. Of course, one of the best things about the Soulard is its proximity to the Hill, the best place in the Midwest for Italian cuisineâ€”whether you want crusty rolls from a deli or a multi-course dinner from your choice of restaurants such as Zia’s.
Find a Farmer’s Market on any street corner, and my wheel automatically turns in â€“ it doesn’t require one of these mega-places to entice me. But, there is nothing quite like wandering through a major Farmer’s Market, on the prowl for the freshest among the fresh, the best deal for a dollar, and the tastes that will stay with you for a lifetime.