29 Oct Baltimore City’s Farmers’ Market
The Baltimore Farmerâ€™s market happens every Sunday morning, under the JFX expressway downtown, just a short walk from the Inner Harbor. Itâ€™s big, crowded, and very urban, with lots of food vendors, pamphleteers, and street musicians. The stalls feature only Maryland produce, which was at its peak about three weeks ago. Weâ€™ve seen the last of the leafy greens and are now into root vegetables, like turnips and onions, and hardy cruciferous, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts . I love the latter, by the way — steamed and slathered with butter
Itâ€™s not picturesque under the freeway. If there werenâ€™t so much activity, the place would be gloomy. Traffic rumbles overhead like bowling balls down a wooden lane. If itâ€™s cool outside, itâ€™s more than chilly here in the shadows. The homeless camp nearby and thereâ€™s always somebody asking for a handout. They get apples from me.
This time of year, thatâ€™s my thing: apples. Sometimes I bring home a bushel of them, usually a mixed pile of imperfect fruit. Iâ€™m a sucker for a bargain, which always makes Jill roll her eyes. Weâ€™ll be peeling apples for hours after I come home. Weâ€™ll be eating apple pie, apple cobbler, apple sauce, and apple crisp for weeks. Red peppers were cheap and numerous as late as last Sunday. Predictably, thereâ€™s now a lot of squash of various kinds. Autumn flowers â€“ mums, especially â€“ are abundant. The health guru Andrew Weil says we all should buy ourselves flowers once a week.
The market opens at eight, is crowded by nine, and stays thronging until its close at noon — at which time you can get some bargains as the vendors pack up. The produce is varied and high quality. But prepared food is more notable, thereâ€™s so much of it and itâ€™s so damned good: sautÃ©ed mushroom sandwiches, pit-cooked beef (a Baltimore specialty), macrobiotic veggie wraps, fried â€œlakeâ€ trout (a city favorite), kettle corn, hand-made donuts (no trans fats), Vietnamese stir fry, smoked salmon, artisan breads, Thai dumplings . . . . If you come to the market hungry, youâ€™re in for a world of trouble.
I donâ€™t eat a heavy breakfast and so donâ€™t understand how people can chow down the way they do at the market. How about a pit-cooked beef sandwich heaped with onion and mustard at eight in the morning? White smoke billows from the beef grills at one end of the market but doesnâ€™t seem to bother the hungry as they stand in line. Second only to the pit-cooked beef line is, oddly, the line for raw lima beans, ladled from big plastic tubs. I like beans just fine but not enough to stand in a block-long line for them.
Though the countryside isnâ€™t far from downtown â€“ twenty minutes will put you there â€“ it must be a novelty for the farm folk to mingle with us city folk. Farmers who sell at markets like these run small, family enterprises. Farming is one of the hardest jobs on the planet and, statistically, one of the most dangerous. My father wanted to be a farmer in Californiaâ€™s San Joaquin Valley, where he grew up. Iâ€™m not sure what shape this dream took in his head. I suppose he pictured owning a large ranch, being self-sufficient, working with his hands. He was a do-it-yourselfer all the way, building and repairing just about everything we needed around the house. He even fixed our television sets and radios.
But his farm, that dream, failed when his first crop â€“ cucumbers â€“ went under. He refused to eat cucumbers the rest of his life. Had he been successful, I might never have left that dusty valley. As it was, Dad came east with my Mom, and so I grew up in North Carolina, her home state, not far from the little farm her mother ran in the Appalachian foothills.
I like working in the dirt well enough, but Iâ€™ve never been a fan of vegetable gardening. Itâ€™s not the kind of making that holds my interest. I donâ€™t have the patience to watch and wait. Iâ€™d rather ply through the Farmersâ€™ Market crowd.