Sunday, August 26, 2007

Summer & Fall at the Reading Terminal

Two trips to the RTM this week, experiencing (and buying) the best of summer, but also getting a sneak peak of fall:

Sweet potatoes and apples at Benuel Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce (photo above) were one sure sign of fall. But Benuel's corn remains at peak perfection (the ears I purchased Saturday were full, defect-free and tasty), and the stone fruit remains plentiful and sweet. It should be only a week or two until Benuel starts selling unpasteurized apple cider. I also picked up a couple Bartlett pears from Benuel.

Fun with fruit. (Yes, eggplant is a fruit, not a vegetable.) This Pinocchio white eggplant was found Thursday at Benuel Kaufman's, which also boasts a fine selection of colored bell peppers (also a fruit) and onions (not a fruit, despite it's vibrant purple color.)

Pears are especially in abundance at Iovine Brothers which offers wide selection: Red Anjou and Bosc ($1.99), Forelle ($2.99), Red Bartlett and Comice ($1.99) and a relative newcomer, originally an Australian variety, Packham (99-cents). In the fungi department, Iovine's was offering black truffles for $300, but sold in $12-$18 packs.

California table grapes have hit the market, and Iovine's has a deal for you: a four-pound clamshell of green seedless for $2.99. The individual fruits looked just a tad small, and I didn't taste them, but that's still a bargain since they rarely go below 99-cents a pound. Iovine's also had Michigan blueberries (the local harvest in NJ and PA has been over for weeks). But if you want local produce at Iovine's there were plenty of offerings from their contract farm, Shady Brook in Bucks County: wax beans 89 cents, corn 25-cents an ear, cantaloupes (musk melons) $1 apiece. Jersey field and plum tomatoes both priced at 99 cents. I don't know where they come from (but I suspect it's New Jersey), but the fava beans are in for $1.99. Another good deal is the seedless cucumbers, two long specimens for a buck.

My gem catch of the week was at Fair Food Farmstand: figs picked that morning from the tree in . . . South Philly. I don't know the variety, but they were green with serious purple blotches/streaks that covered two-thirds of the surface. Half a dozen packed in an egg carton, $3. Very delicate fruits, absolutely sublime. One of the Farmstand staffers recommended halving the figs, topping with a little crumbled blue cheese and a few drops of good olive oil. Gotta try that! Also picked up blackberries ($3.75/pint) to mix with melted leftover peach sorbet for a new peach-blackbery sorbet.

Turkey London broil from Godshall's provided the protein for a simple summer meal last night for visiting cousins from Syracuse. The turkey went on the Weber gas grill for indirect cooking after an hour in a simple brine and a quick drying and coating with a homemade rub (hot and sweet paprika, cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder, salt, ground cumin). Served with tomatoes and cucumbers, cornbread (I forgot to add the kernels of fresh corn! Oh, well, those will be sauteed tonight), and the last of my homemade kosher dills, followed by the sorbet with pizzelles. (Wine: Hermann Wiemer Dry Rosé)

Earlier in the week I made a great lunch of soft shell crabs ($6 apiece) from John Yi's: dredged in flour, dipped in egg wash, coated with breadcrumbs, sauteed in butter, served on plain white bread with remoulade. (Beer: Lord Chesterfield Ale)

I can heartily recommend the whitefish salad at Hershel's East Side Deli. Freshly made and fresh tasting.

Here's my combined shopping list for two visits at the RTM Thursday and Saturday:

Turkey London broil
Turkey bacon





JOHN YI $12.00

Soft shell crabs


Sauerkraut (which they spell "Sour Kraut")


Whitefish salad




Sunday, August 19, 2007

Headhouse Square

Peppers, scallions from Blooming Glen Farm

Stone fruit from Northstar Orchards

The red cherry tomatoes at Blooming Glen are tiny, but they are flavor-packed. About as sweet as can be without being pure sugar, but still some tomato acid bite. Great for just popping in the mouth, adding to salad or just barely warming up and adding to vermicelli or the pasta of your choice.

Nicky Uy, market manager, says she hopes to add additional dairy purveyors, if not this season then next, especially one who sells milk and cream rather than just cheese, and raw milk if at all possible.

Here's my brief shopping list:

Peaches, nectarine

Cherry tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Leaf lettuce

Friday, August 17, 2007

RTM Traffic Continues to Grow

Whether it's because tourism is growing or the inceased Center City population because of all the new condos and condo conversions, both or some other reason entirely, visitors at the Reading Terminal Market continue to grow at a hefty pace -- well in excess of 10 percent.

For the week of July 30-Aug. 5, the number of visitors to the market reached 127,582, an increase of more than 15 percent compared the same week of the prior year. For the week of July 9-15, visitors totaled 116,105 this year vs. 104,474 last year, an increase of more than 11 percent. (There were no major events at the convention center or the Marriott during these weeks this year or last year.)

There may be another change in the works for on-street parking. The Philadelphia Parking Authority notified the RTM that it is considering changes along the south side of Arch Street adjacent to the terminal. Under the proposal what's currently a loading zone open to both trucks and passenger vehicles (20 minutes, if I recall correctly) would become 30-minutes for trucks only from 5 a.m. to 12 noon; from then until 8 p.m. it would be metered for 30-minute maximum stay.

Market management is still looking for a tenant for the former Foster's space. Although there's been talk of Kitchen Kapers moving in, there's no deal right now. In his monthly newsletter to merchants, RTM GM Paul Steinke says a priority will to bring back to the market a kitchen hard goods retailer. As for the demonstration kitchen, originally installed under Steinke's predecessor Marcy Rogovin in the late 1990s and later taken over by Foster's when they moved into the space, Steinke says its future is being evaluated in light of the need to repair and upgrade its facilities.

Speaking of upgrade of facilities, Tom Nicolosi says he's purchased the additional ovens, refrigerators and other appurtenances for his capacity expansion. When everything is installed DiNic's will expand hours to 6 p.m. daily as well as start opening on Sundays.

Over at Fair Food Farmstand today, lots of different colored cherry tomatoes, including tiny Black Cherokees (very sweet, hardly any acidity). Although I wasn't in the market for it, there was a nice hunk of boneless lamb shoulder from Meadow Run in the freezer case.

Pomegranites have made their seasonal debut; smallish fruits are available at Iovine Brothers for a buck apiece.

I'll be cooking spare ribs on the Weber kettle tomorrow, hence my trip to the RTM today so I could apply the dry rub well in advance of cooking. As I write they are in close contact with a Memphis rub made from hot and sweet paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, celery salt, black pepper, brown sugar, salt and cumin. I'll probably do a mustard-vinegar mop while they're cooking.

This week's shopping list (not heavy on the produce 'cause I've got a little left and I plan on a Headhouse Square visit Sunday):


Spare ribs
Turkey bacon


Capers in salt

Potato salad
Pepper hash

LE BUS $3.75

Cream cheese

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And at the Market, change is often met with resistance
High-rise condominiums are going up around the Market, ushering in an upscale class of potential Market shoppers. Four luxury condo projects within a few blocks are scheduled to open in 2008 and 2009, totaling 548 new homes. Average purchase price: $1.6 million....

Downtown condo dwellers have food-shopping options besides the Market. Specialty grocers such as Whole Foods....

These markets offer downtown condo dwellers something [the] Market does not — a place to shop for groceries after 6 p.m....

More pressure undoubtedly will be put on Market vendors and merchants — particularly those selling food — to stay open later to better serve the downtown condo crowd. That would mark a radical reversal in the up-early, home-early traditions of those who make their living at the Market.

And at the Market, change often is met with resistance.

The diverse mix of farmers, retailers, restaurateurs and artisans rarely agree about anything, and their relationship with Market administration has long been adversarial. Drama and anxiety are part of the character of the arket community.

Will residents of pricey condos insist that the Market abandon its gritty ways? Will the Market's administration respond by gentrifying the Market to meet a demand? And will the Market lose its character as a result?
Sound familiar, Philadelphians? But, no, this quote is not about the Reading Terminal Market. It's from this past Sunday's Seattle Times, and "the Market" is Pike Place. You can read the full story here, at least as long as the paper keeps the page alive. (And thanks to Paul Steinke, RTM manager, for bringing the article to my attention.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Corn from the Good Ol' Days

It's pretty hard to find old fashioned, non-hybrid corn these days. But Earl Livengood had it last Saturday, and I expect it will also be available from him at the South & Passyunk market Tuesday afternoon and the Fairmount & 22nd market Thursday afternoon. The certified organic ears were priced at 50 apiece .

As expected, these "open pollinated" ears were not nearly as sweet as modern supersweet hybrids. Taste was noticeably but not overwhelmingly "cornier". The ears were much more uniform than I expected to see, though the kernels were on the large side. (I did not strip the ears open to check quality at the stand. I abhor that practice and would rather, pardon the expression, "feel it up" with the husks in place to determine if there are any gross deformities.)

All in all, it was a nice change and a worthwhile reminder of what corn used to taste like and why people would boil the water before picking the corn and then rush it to the pot. But, unless I get nostalgic again, I'll stick to the modern supersweets.

Also at the RTM this past Saturday, lots of local produce at both Iovine Brothers and OK Lee to supplement their regular fare. Iovine's comes from Shadybrook Farm near Yardley, OK Lee's from Lancaster County. Among the items: cantaloupe, wax and green beans, corn. Certainly not local, but a welcome seasonal return nonetheless at OK Lee: Cactus pears, two for a buck. Makes great magaritas.

Suffering succotash! Lima beans at the height of their season. At least one of Earl Livengood's farmhands was popping them raw as a snack this morning. Also new this week: fresh, young, small celeriac. Earl's also got some additional varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

Blackberries and peaches still going strong, of course, at Livengood's, Kaufman's and Fair Food, but also making an appearance in advance of autumn are some early pears at Kaufman's. Benuel says he expects to have Sanza apples next week. (Benuel spells the varietry with a 'z', but I've only seen it with the second 's', Sansa.)

Benuel Kauffman's pears, peaches and nectarines

Earl Livengood's heirloom tomatoes

Here's what I bought at the RTM Saturday:


IOVINE $0.39

Cherry tomatoes


Mexican chorizo


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Livengood Farm Corn Roast

The rains came and went last Sunday (July 29), then about three or four dozen produce lovers made their way out to Lampeter, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Lancaster, where the Livengood family held their annual corn roast and pot luck for customers they serve at Reading Terminal Market, South Street market, and Fairmount market. It was the sixth or seventh year they'd held the event, but the first time I had the opportunity to attend.

Hosts Earl, Joyce, Dwain and Dale Livengood, along with other family members and farmhands, provided the setting (the Livengood's shady side yard), the corn, canopy and table, cold drinks and hospitality, while the guests provided the potluck which mostly took advantage of seasonal produce goodies. (The only meat I spied and tasted was some delicious Biranyi, but the shredded chicken was used more as another flavoring than a main ingredient.)

Following the meal, Earl introduced the family and then presided over the afternoon's entertainment, a skit involving he and his farmhands hoeing their rows while singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and then the telling of a tall tale involving a steer in which Earl, a wild and crazy guy, played the steer. Afterword, Earl and Dwain led tour of the farm, and Sam led another one showing the non-commercial produce growing on the Livengood's property, starting out with the paw paw trees in the front yard. Here's a photo of the hoeing entertainment:

Soon after I arrived, Earl's friend and amateur farmer/forager Sam Consylman grabbed me and another guest, Alexandra Stafford (food editor of the Bulletin) to show off his garden, a few miles away. Here are photos of Sam amidst his onions (which will be appear in local farm markets this winter), holding one of his prize beets (a cylindrical variety, which I think are among the sweetest as well as perfectly shaped for roasting), and next to one of his peach trees.

The peaches, btw, are delicious. Sam picked one up off the ground, brushed away the ants and the tiny spot they had just started working on and handed it to me. Incredibly juice, but with a subtle but absolutely peachy flavor. It was a modern white variety, Raritan Rose (obviously, by name, a product of Rutgers' Cook College of Agriculture), and well worth seeking out, so long as you get them as perfectly ripe as the one Sam handed to me, sans ants.