by David Cecelski
The Stockyard—really the Wells Stockyard Flea Market—has been an institution in Wallace, in Duplin County, for decades. At first light every Thursday and Saturday morning, hundreds of vendors gather at a lot on US 117 that’s shared with a hog market.
Everybody goes to the Stockyard: young mothers pushing strollers, local farmers in their John Deere caps, Honduran immigrants straight from their jobs at one of the local slaughterhouses, elegant older ladies in broad-brimmed, Sunday-go-to-meeting hats—everybody. It’s one of the things I like best about the Stockyard: it brings people together.
There’s not much you can’t get there, either. The vendors sell everything from baby shoes to antique farm tools—and lots of food: local produce, homemade tamales, shrimp right off the truck, fresh peaches brought up from an orchard in McBee, South Carolina, live chickens, boiled peanuts, chicharrónes (pork skins) fried while you watch, and on and on.
My favorite discovery when I was there this week was a single bag of dried plums. A Mexican gentleman was selling handmade cowboy hats and other clothing goods from the back of his pick-up truck, but he also had a few special food treats, including the dried plums. He had carried them all the way from his home in the state of Guerrero in southern Mexico.
He told me that he was from the highlands of Guerrero, the part that borders Michoacán. It’s a largely indigenous region, where people are more likely to speak pre-Hispanic languages like Nahuatl, Mixteco, or Tlapaneco than Spanish.
In that part of Guerrero, they’re renowned for their pre-Hispanic cookery, including an ancient tradition of making sweet tamales with dried plums. It’s a tradition in much of Central America, too. Hence the vendor’s motivation for bringing them to the Stockyard: he knew that he’d find people yearning for a unique taste of home there.
He also had several bags of dried beans and two boxes of sweet breads with him—some from Guerrero, some from Michoacán. He said that he had discovered that the flea market’s customers hankered especially for the sweet breads from their homelands. “Even if you make them here the same way, they taste different,” he told me.