Friday, April 03, 2009

An excuse

Outside of yesterday's two-sentence ramps post, I realize I hadn't added any content since late February. Yes, I was away for a week in Norway (when I write about that I'll add a link), but that doesn't account for all the missing missives.

When I saw the ramps, I realized why it's been so long between posts: there wasn't much to write about during the winter produce doldrums. How many times can I report the price of citrus fruit?

Now, however, things are beginning to change. Easter and Passover have prompted meat and fish vendors to strut their stuff, the local farmers' markets will open in a month (Headhouse May 3, Fairmount May 7), and, just like the blooming of daffodils and blossoming of pear trees, we are predictably pleased with the end of winter and green onslaught of spring.

About those fish vendors . . . there are still people who make their own gefilte fish for Passover, so John Yi at the Reading Terminal Market has stocked whole carp, yellow perch and whitefish (the fresh, unsmoked variety). The carp (no need for a filled bathtub; it's no longer alive) sells for $2.99, the other fish for $7.99. (Then again, you can buy gefilte fish ready-made at Hershel's Deli.) Another spring fish is much in evidence: buck shad for $2.99, roe shad for $3.99, as well as roe sets (sorry, didn't write down the price). Artic char, a trout-salmon relative, was $12.99 for filets; the sign said it was wild, but most of the char sold in this country is farm-raised, though in a very sustainable and eco-friendly closed-system way.

Over at Iovine Brothers, although it's not yet local asparagus has been prominently displayed. The white variety, $1.49, comes from Peru; the green, $1.99, is unattributed but probably hails from either Mexico or California.

For the second day in a row, the sign at Iovine's said they had ramps, but none were to be found in late morning. Vinnie and Charlie (between setting up for this afternoon's visit by U.S. Ag Sec Tom Vilsack swear they have them, they just weren't out yet. By the time Vilsack made his tour in mid-afternoon, they were there.

Bargain alert: Hass avocados are two for a buck at Iovine's. Red and green bell peppers, 99 cents a pound. California strawberries, two one-pound clamshells for $3. Chilean green seedless grapes, $1 for a one-pound clamshell. Small navel oranges, 5/$1. I didn't check today, but yesterday Argentine Bartlett pears were 89 cents a pound. Very large mangos were selling for a buck apiece.

Given the economy, a lot of vendors selling hard goods (like at least one home design store I Philadelphia) are cutting back on inventory, which is expensive to carry. When I walked by Downtown Cheese yesterday, I thought Jack was doing the same. But no fear, it must have just been during a lull in restocking. The cases were full today.

Pretzels and Candies

During my interregnum from posting, the pretzel store reopened as Miller's Twists across the aisle from the original location. Fisher's, which sold off the pretzel and ice cream part of its business to Roger Miller, has since expanded its candy operation to the former pretzel-ice cream-counter area and added fudge as a product. Photo shows sign at Miller's Twists being installed.

The contiguous spaces formerly occupied by Dutch Country Meats and Everyday Gourmet remain vacant, although the market has deals for both a butcher, S&B Meats, and a prepared foods vendor, Barb & Suzy's Kitchen, two related businessest. Today, proprietor Moses Smucker was at the stall going over architectural plans. He bopes to open in June. The Kitchen part of the businesses will feature sausage sandwiches and batter-fried veggies, he said.

Cheesesteaks galore

There's no dearth of cheesesteaks at the RTM, with both Spataro's and Carmine's selling them. Now add a third vendor: By George, which fires up the grill Monday.

Sunday Success

The RTM has had to shoo people out the door at 4 p.m. on Sundays. So why fight it? The market has extended its Sunday hours to 5 p.m. It opens at 9 a.m. No Amish vendors on Sunday, some of the lunch operations don't participate, as well as some food vendors.

Parking Rates Rise

It's no surprise that the discount parking offered by the Reading Terminal Market has increased its price to match the city's meter rate increase. What is surprising is that it took so long. the new rates at the Parkway garage supposedly went into effect April 1 ($4 for two hours), but I was charged the old $3 rate when I stopped by the market at midday.

Fair Food Progress

The Fair Food Farmstand remains optimistic they can open at its new 12th street side location by the end of spring. They don't want to miss the big growing season.

Maple Daze

You better like all things maple if you wander into the Reading Terminal Market on Saturday, April 18. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day, the RTM will celebrate the new vintage of Pennsylvania maple syrup with Maple Daze. You can learn how maple syrup is made, watch a maple sugar-making demonstration, and sample maple baked goods, maple fudge, Bassetts maple ice cream, maple bacon, maple sugar cookies, maple trivia, and more.

St. Pat's Day Redux

It my look a bit like St. Patrick's Day in and around the Convention Center, because about 10,000 are attending the World Irish Dancing Championships April 5-12. Market merchants have been asked to offer Irish-themed specials or spruce up their stalls in a Celtic fashion.

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