by David Cecelski
When I was in downtown Raleigh today, I had lunch with an old college friend at the farmers market that’s held every Wednesday in Moore Square. I hadn’t been there before, but I really enjoyed seeing a market in the middle of a busy city. The market is held in the shade of old oaks and offers a nice respite from the traffic and crowds downtown. Office workers, retail clerks and state employees all strolled through the market, chatting with the vendors, buying lunches or collecting fresh produce for their dinners tonight.
The farmers’ booths were laden with late summer produce—okra, tomatoes, snap beans, eggplant, field peas and lots of Crowder peas. One of them, Coon Rock Farms, a 55-acre spread on theEnoRiver, had some lovely amber-colored honey. I also couldn’t take my eyes off the heirloom red tomatoes and the yellow pear tomatoes grown at Hill Top Farms in Willow Spring. Wild Onion Farms, which has 7 acres of organic crops on an old tobacco farm in JohnstonCounty, also had some wonderful looking greens.
The temperature was 95 degrees today and the downtown shoppers really seemed to appreciate cool treats. Lumpy’s Ice Cream was drawing a crowd, and I thoroughly enjoyed a cup of the strawberry lemonade at Sweet T’s “Cupcakery,” where, I can attest, the baker also makes some first-class bread pudding.
There was also a fish vendor— a representative from the Southport Seafood Company in BrunswickCounty. This pioneering little company’s founders work in partnership with Bill Hickman, the veteran captain of the Sea Eagle, a 36-foot Harkers Island-built boat that has been catching shrimp and offshore fish for decades. Today most grocery stores and fish markets buy their wholesale seafood from national conglomerates, but it’s a wholly different thing here. Their retail trade isn’t fancy—they sell out of coolers—but you can purchase freshly-caught, local fish where you know exactly who caught your fish, what boat caught your fish, and what waters your fish came out of. And you won’t find fresher.
There was plenty else at the farmers market, too—jams and jellies, cut flowers, a few crafts and also more baked goods. La Farm Bakery, the French bakery in downtown Cary, had a booth full of good-looking breads and pastries.
Another booth that really caught my eye belonged to a German couple, Annelore and Norbert Gstattenbauer. Annelore makes a host of traditional Bavarian treats, many of them featuring seasonal ingredients, and Norbert seems so proud of them that he beguiles by-standers and browsers with the secrets of her creams and the care that she puts into her crusts. He described the four layers that go into her blueberry tarts for me like he was helping me to appreciate a Renaissance masterpiece—a man of my own heart.
. Today the Gstattenbauers had, among much else, a streusel cake with peaches and blackberries, blueberry and red plum tarts, cheese breads and lye pretzels (a very traditional German recipe—a quick lye bath is the secret to their softness), as well as Bee Sting Cake (Binenstach), a classic German treat made with honey-crusted crushed almonds and stuffed with Bavarian cream. What I brought home for my family though was the “apple purses,” a wonderful yeast roll stuffed with apples cooked with cinnamon and sugar.
The Moore Square farmers market is open from 10:30 AM to 2 PM on Wednesdays during the summer. Many of the vendors also sell at other WakeCounty farmers markets, including the WakeForestFarmers Market, the Midtown Farmers Market at North Hills and the new Western Wake Farmers Market in Cary, all on Saturday mornings. At least one of the Moore Square vendors, the Gstattenbauer’s bakery, also sells daily at the State Farmers Market, located off Lake Wheeler Road in the south of Raleigh.