by David Cecelski
The bakers at the South Estes Farmers Market in Chapel Hill remind me of the French chocolatier, Vianne, in Joanne Harris’s novel,Chocolat. (She is played by Juliette Binoche in the movie version of the novel.) Vianne is abeautiful, exotic woman with a passion for the good things of the earth, an almost magical gift for baking and secret recipes that awaken lost appetites for love and melt the hardest hearts.
The bakers at this fledgling farmers market, now in only its 3rd or 4th week of operation, are just as beguiling. There is, for instance, a lovely Italian woman named Clara Sforza, who sells homemade pastas, biscotti,taralli and other traditional cookies, tarts and breads that she learned to make when she worked at a bakery in Italy. Her confections make her customers’ faces light up with joy.
Her pasta, too, is sublime. Back home, my wife and I swooned over her fettuccini with basil, which we ate with only a little parmesan added. For us, it was like being present at pasta’s invention: “Ah!” we said, “so this is what pasta is supposed to taste like!” Sforza calls her at-home bakery La Spiga di Grano, Italian for “Ear of Wheat.”
Across the way, another radiant young baker, Rita Deimler, from Hurdle Mills, was sellingschnecken, rolled cinnamon buns that were fetchingly rich and gooey. She made them with a recipe that her husband’s German grandmother gave her, and she had done the lady proud. The schnecken were exquisite. I am sure that any man or woman lucky enough to wake up to a cup of coffee and one of those schnecken every morning will be happy all their life.
Rita’s booth, Scrambled Acres Farm, specializes in fresh eggs, fruit and jams and jellies, but she will also be selling a few baked goods every Saturday morning.
And then there was the baker who runs Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking, a dazzling, dark-haired young woman named Phoebe Lawless. Assisted by her husband, Chuck, and small daughter, Marilyn, she was selling cakes, tarts and pies, both sweet and savory. Her pies showed so much creativity and beauty, so much attention to color, shape and texture, as well as to flavor, that you had to think to yourself, that yes, if Picasso was a baker, this is what he would have made. Or perhaps more likely, if Picasso was to fall in love, this is the woman with whom he would have fallen in love.
I bought one of her fava bean and preserved lemon tarts to eat for lunch. If I could have resisted eating it (no chance), I would have taken it home and built a shrine to it. The tart was as gorgeous to the eye as it was pleasing to the palate.
As part of Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking, Phoebe Lawless also does something called “Community Supported Pie.” That means you can sign up and pay $60 and, if you live in Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill, you can choose to receive 3 small pies or 1 large pie every week for four weeks.
Hers are not your grandmother’s Sunday dinner pies either. Some of Lawless’s recent creations include chicken and root vegetable pot pie, Mexican chocolate chess pie, Farmhouse white bean and sage pie, Bartlett pear and toasted oat streusel crisp and Shaker lemon pie. She also uses as many ingredients from local farms and dairies as possible. To learn more about Community Supported Pie, check out her web site at www.piefantasy.com or email her firstname.lastname@example.org
The bakers have obviously enchanted me, but all the vendors at the South Estes Farmers Market are worth visiting. Besides the bakers, there are backyard gardeners, a cheese maker, a small-scale vintner, and even a purveyor of worms. So, go. Try everything. Be seduced.
The South Estes Farmers Market is held Saturday mornings from 8 AM to 12 Noon at 201 S. Estes Drive, in a corner of the University Mall parking lot in Chapel Hill. The market is sponsored by University Mall, A Southern Season and Farmers of Orange. You can learn more about Farmers of Orange at www.farmersoforange.org