Saturday, May 30, 2009

Strawberry Peak

If you haven’t bought strawberries yet, don’t wait. This week has got to be the peak of the season. The pint I purchased from Livengood’s, at Thursday’s Fairmount Farmer’ Market, was the sweetest and most flavorful yet. They simply don’t get any better.

Today at the Reading Terminal Market the prize for lowest priced berries goes to Benuel Kauffman’s Lancaster County Produce, with two quarts for $11, the equivalent of $2.75/pint. A single quart was $5.95, pints $3.95. L. Halteman had the best price for a pint, $3.29, with quarts at $5.99. Fair Food’s conventional berries were $3.50/pint, but chemical-free berries from Rineer’s were $5.50. Earl Livengood’s were $4.25/pint or $8.25/quart.

Livengood’s had some beautiful, thin red scallions (spring onions), for $1.75 bunch. Kauffman’s added yellow summer squash to its offerings today, $2.49/pound.

Over at Iovine Brothers Produce the price of limes went up to four for a buck, after a couple weeks at 10 for a buck. Although loose lemons remained 3/$1, you could bag a bag of six large lemons for the same price. Green seedless grapes in clamshells went up to $1.99 this week, but the tray-wrapped grapes were $1.49. Stone fruits from California and other southern climes are in abundance, including apricots at 99-cents a pound.

Goes Pop

Kauffman’s Lancaster County Produce has added a new gizmo to its counter at the Reading Terminal Market, the rice cake popper pictured above. When operating, a cake pops out of the machine (with a muffled pop) about every 10 or 12 seconds; the plexiglass prevents the finished cakes from hitting customers.

The cakes aren’t pure rice, instead they are a mix of wheat, rice, corn with some salt. A bag of 15 sells for $3.49.

They are pretty tasty, at least when fresh out of the machine. Note that the staff enjoys munching on them, too.

Sandwiches at Bassett's?

Yes, ice cream sandwiches. I noticed the vanilla ice cream sandwiches for the first time today at Bassett’s Reading Terminal market counter, though the server said they’ve occasionally had them for about a year. They go for $1.25 apiece.

Guardian Eats Philadelphia

The Guardian, one of the UK’s leading daily rags, looked at Philadelphia’s food scene today, with writer Joshua Stein spending an inordinante amount of time at the Reading Terminal market, where he enjoyed Tommy DiNic’s roast pork so much he had two! Stein also declared the pretzels at Miller’s Twists “perhaps the best pretzels in the world”.Read all about it here.

The New Y0rk Post made a trip to Philadelphia recently with an obligatory stop at the RTM, which it called “Philadelphia’s town square”. Read about it here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Berries

A week ago, local strawberries were just starting to appear. This weekend they were in their full grandeur at the Reading Terminal Market and all the neighborhood farmers’ markets.

At the RTM, Benuel Kauffman’s $4.95 pints were being undersold by Halteman’s $4.29 pints and Earl Livengood’s $4.25 pints. Fair Food, selling Rineer’s output, was at the high end at $5.50.

Better buys could be found at today’s Headhouse Square, where A.T. Buzby offered quarts for $5.50, or two for $10. Blooming Glen’s pints were $3.50. Yoder Heirloom’s quarts were $7.

Tom Culton’s heavily-laden table included “picked today” berries at $9/quart. Tom said his crew was out at 12:30 a.m. to start the picking. He slept in ’til 2:30 a.m.

Love that Panther

Vinnie Iovine is big on Panther Farm in Vineland. Because of the quality of their vegetables, you’ll see lots of their output at Iovine Brothers Produce this season. In fact, Iovine’s has a larger poster declaring Panther Farm their featured supplier.

Also known by the family name, Flaim Farm, it produces romaine, kohlrabi, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, swiss chard (green, red) ,rainbow kale, turnips, napa cabbage, squash, eggplant (four varieties), peppers, escarole, endive. tomatillos and scallions on 450 acres. Recently they’ve added “value added” eggplant “fries” and cutlets to their offerings, and have marketed them to school lunch programs in the Garden State.

The farm was established in 1934 and is now operated by brothers Kevin and Bob Flaim. They also sell at the Collingswood Farmers’ Market.

Merchants' Celebration

Rick Nichols nailed it in his report on the Reading Terminal Market Merchants’ Association soiree held May 17 (”On the Side: Market’s old-times fill plates with memories,” The Inquirer, May 21, 2009). Centered around the showing of the 11-minute video, part of a larger oral history project, the event was a celebration of the market and its history.

The highlight (besides the lamb chops) was Tootsie D’Ambrosio’s singing of Happy Birthday, a la Marilyn Monroe, to Harry Ochs. Tootsie, who operates Salad Express at the market, is one of the Iovine clan, sister to Jimmy, Vinnie and all the rest.

A number of former vendors were invited, including Jill Horn, who many may remember as the owner of Jill’s Vorspeise. When I first started shopping at the RTM in 1982, Jill was located against the back wall behind Iovine Brothers Produce, and later moved to the center court spot now occupied by Mezze. In addition to her various salads and appetizer, she made a killer vegetable paté with orange (carrot), green (spinach?) and white (?) layers.

Tim Bellew, btw, will be the chef at Meze, the Fairmount Avenue restaurant scheduled to open sometime this fall just two blocks from my house. If he’s got those lamb chops on the menu, I may be a regular. Charles Giunta, who supplied the lamb, and Vinnie Iovine attest to Tim’s culinary skills.

Besides the lamb chops, the favorite of many atttendees was dessert, served at Bassett’s counter. In addition to your choice of ice cream, various little cakes and fudge were served.

Don Mitchell, who produced the video shown at the party, has about 100 hours of interviews with market merchants and customers, but funding is needed to complete the project. DVDs of the video were for sale at the event to help raise funds for the project, and I suspect they will be made available to the public soon.

Veal at Headhouse

Birchrun Hills Farm, best known for its cheeses, also sells meat. Sunday at the Headhouse Square market they featured veal in a variety of cuts, all humanely raised. Chops were $15/pound, scallopine $18, cubes (my guess is it was cut from the shoulder clod) were $11, and osso bucco $13.99. They also had ground veal for $6 and liver for $9.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Copper River Salmon arrives

John Yi (Eat Fish, Live Longer) was selling Copper River salmon fillets at $26.99/pound this morning at the Reading Terminal Market.

The fishmonger swore it was Chinook (King) rather than sockeye. I’m not so sure, given that Alaska Fish & Game’s Commercial Division reports that for the first two days of the season (May 14 and 18), a total of 116,000 sockeye and fewer than 3,000 Chinook were landed. An additional day was scheduled for this past Thursday.

I’ll give it the taste test tonight. I like sockeye, too, but the CRS Chinook is awesome.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Three Vendors at Fairmount

Only three vendors made it to the Fairmount Farmers' Market today: Earl Livengood, Marcelle's Bakery and Bill Welllers.

Livengood's was out of strawberries by the time I arrived about 4 p.m., just one hour after market opening. Weller, who later this year will offer fruit and vegetables, has a panoply of flower baskets and plants for planting. Marcelle's (formerly Versailles) had its usual stock or French breads and dessert pastries. My purchases today were some hothouse tomatoes from Livengood, and dinner rolls and apple pastries from Marcelle's.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

South Street Report

Rineer’s strawberries and snow peas were the highlight of my visit to the South & Passyunk Farmers’ Market yesterday.

The berries were merely good, but the peas were exceptional, almost as sweet as the berries! I also enjoyed the beef jerky from Rineer’s, processed by Smuckers Meats of Mount Joy.

Other vendors at South Street yesterday were Earl Livengood, Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, the Amish flower vendor (sorry, forget his name, but I think it’s Dave), and Big Sky Bakery.

Street Signs at the Market

Staff and merchants know that the aisles of the Reading Terminal Market have names. But few others do.

That may change with the reinstallation of street signs.

The broad north-south aisles between Arch and Filbert are the letter-demarcated “avenues”, the east-west aisles running from 12th Street to the market’s loading alley are the “streets”. Until the early 1990s wooden signs marked each intersections.

The sign have been rescued fromn the market’s basement and cleaned up and are now being installed at the intersections, like the one pictured above.

The market started the reinstallation just in time for the annual dinner this past Saturday held by the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association, which included an 11-minute video which included photos of the signs in days past.

Now, if only the map of the aisles on the market’s web site included the street and avenue designations. (The PDF version downloadable from the website does indicate streets and avenues.)

Subterranean Farmers' Market

Farm To City has added another Center City market to its list. This one is located in the bowels of Suburban Station in the 16th Street corridor between Market and JFK from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Farm to City also operates the City Hall Market on the northwest corner of the plaza at 15th and JFK on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and, under the sponsorship of Jefferson University Hospital, at 10th and Chestnut on Thursdays, starting next week, from 11 to 3:30 p.m.

A Morel Dilemma

“I ate ‘em”.

That’s the explanation offered by Sam Consylman for the lack of morels when I caught up with him at Earl Livengood’s stand at the South & Passyunk market Tuesday. Sam’s foraging treasures are also sold, when available, at Livengood’s stalls at the Reading Terminal Market and the Fairmount farmers’ markets.

Sam, forager extraordinaire, said he only collected five pounds of the fabulous fungi this spring. And a couple of his regular South & Passyunk market shoppers, under his guidance, went out foraging in Lancaster County and came back with three pounds. But that was it.

Sam still expects to have poke for another week, from the roots he dug up in the fall and placed in his cold cellar for sprouting.

This spring Sam planted another South American tuber, Oca, which he expects to harvest in October or November.

Livengood at Bryn Mawr

Livengood’s will be among the vendors opening day this Saturday for the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market. Others will include Birchrun Hills Farm (cow cheese, pork and veal), Shellbark Hollow Farm (goat cheese), Spice of Life (gluten-free baked goods), Vital Force Farm (produce) and Wild Flour Bakery.

The Bryn Mawr Market will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the municipal parking lot between the train staiton and the Ludington Library.

Iovine the Milk Man

Iovine Brothers Produce recent rearrangement of shelves and cases includes a more prominent presence for some items you’d normally pick up at other stores: dairy and juices.

Milk, butter and a small range of other popular dairy items, along with eggs and juices, are now located by the checkout closest to Filbert Street, a.k.a. Harry Ochs Way. Iovine’s has had dairy products for a couple of years, but they’ve been in the far corner of the store. With the move, the vendor figures to move more milk.

A few checkout aisles over is where mushrooms and a few other refrigerated produce items have been moved.

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's the Berries

Berry season has arrived at the Reading Terminal Market and at local farmers’ markets.

Over at the RTM, Benuel Kauffman’s Lancaster County Produce was selling pints for $4.95, or two for $9. Ben said they were grown in the field, not under hoop houses. Meanwile, Iovine Brothers Produce had California berries at $1 for a one-pound pack, which looked to be the equivalent of about a quart.

At Headhouse Square Tom Culton’s organic pints sold at $5/pint, while across the aisle A.T. Buzby offered conventionally-grown quarts of South Jersey berries for $5.50, or two for $10.

I bought a pint of Ben’s and they were intensively flavored, sweet and of medium size. The berries at all the markets will only get better over the next few weeks. Break out at the whipped cream and pantry ingredients for short bread!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reading Terminal Finds

Yesterday’s visit to the Reading Terminal Market saw the produce stands starting to bulge with spring produce.

Earl Livengood lacked strawberries, but his greens were overflowing: endive ($2.50/bunch), Napa cabbage ($2.95), kale, collards and chard ($1.95), lettuces ($3.25), and spinach ($2.95). Rhubarb was $3.95, and small bunches of Lily of the Valley were $2.95; he also had peonies. Earl’s Asparagus was $3.50 a bunch.

The Fair Food Farmstand had its usual broad selection from the region’s small farmers. The fiddleheads were dear but pristine at $19.50, though they still insist on calling them wild-crafted. What’s wrong with wild-harvested? Asparagus was $3.85 for chemical-free, $3.00 for IPM (integrated pest management). Rhubart was $5.50/pound for chemical-free, $3.00 for conventional.

Over at Iovine Brothers limes were a bargain at 10 for a buck; it seems that one of the wholesalers was stuck with many cases of 200-size limes, which are just a tad on the small side, but shoppers at Iovine reaped a bounting; these little guys still had plenty of juice. White grapes from Chile, where it’s the end of the season, were 89-cents for packs of about a pound each. And let’s not forget the pepper report, which I’ve skipped lately: green bells 79-cents a pound, orange and yellows $2.49, reds $2.99, and hot and frying peppers, 99 cents.

Two days earlier at Iovine I priced juice oranges at 5/$1, and bags of California clementines (three pounds each, I believe) at $5.99). The clementines’ meat is loose in the skin, but they’ve got great taste. Mangoes are showing up in abundance; Champagne mangoes from Mexico were 2 for $1.50, regular “tropicals” from Guatemala $1 apiece. Hawaiin Ataulfo’s were $1.99.

Boston mackerels are plentiful, $2.99/pound at John Yi. Soft shell crabs could be obtained $5.99, or four for $20.

Over at Giunta’s Prime Shop, Charles is selling duck legs from Pennsylvania’s Joe Jurgielewicz & Son for $5.99. Giunta’s organic chickens are from Coleman, $2.99/pound for whole birds.

Interview Rick Nichols

Turn the tables on Rick Nichols and ask him questions! Rick, the award-winning food columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, will visit La Cucina at the Market Thursday to discuss his experience covering the Philadelphia food scene. The two-hour session begins at 5:30 p.m. The tab is $55. For reservations call La Cucina at 215-922-1170.

Saturday (and Sunday) at Headhouse

I visited opening day of the Saturday Headhouse Square farmers’ market sponsored by The Food Trust and found the east side of Second Street alive with vendors: Los Taquitos de la Puebla for taco al pastor; Earl Livengood for his usual spring selection of fresh, pristine produce; Davidson Exotic Mushrooms for shitake and oyster fungi; Two Ganders Farm for honey and biodyamic produce (whatever that means); John and Kira’s Chocolates (I couldn’t resist a 9-piece pack of ladybugs and bees); Young’s Garden for herb seedlings and flowers; Spice of Life for gluten-free baked goods; La Colombe Torrefaction for coffee; and Henry Fisher’s Lancaster County produce, eggs and cheese. More vendors are expected to join the Saturday roster in coming weeks.

Today at Headhouse the Sunday market was in full swing. (That's Tom Culton serving customers in photo at right). Do you want white radishes (Weaver’s Way) or white turnips (Blooming Glen), which might have been switched at birth? The young cooking greens were seductive at all the produce stands, as were the young garlic bunches at Blooming Glen and the scallions (green onions) at Weaver’s Way. You want exotic mushrooms or greens? Try Queen Farm. And I love the baguettes from Marcelle’s Bakery (formerly Versailles); they aren’t as crusty as you’d get from Metropolitan or Le Bus, but much more like the everyday baguette you get in Toulouse or Paris: a bit breadier and more substantial, full of flavor.

The outlook for summer fruit is looking good. Ben of Three Springs Fruit Farm said they’ve got lots of fruit set and plan to thin them out this week, so we can look forward (weather permitting) to great harvests of stone and pome fruits as we get into summer and then to the fall. He also said that for the coming season, they plan to pack more peaches in water than they did last season; although their peaches in light syrup hardly have more calories than the water-packed version, so long as you drain the liquid, a lot of folks were disappointed when the sugar-free variety sold out.
Food of a Younger Land

Mark Kurlansky (right) being interviewed by Rick Nichols

Food of a Younger Land
is a book of articles originally conceived as a Depression-era Federal Writers Project tome, America Eats. Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World among many other books, uncovered the onion-skin manuscripts for the unpubished work in forgotten cartons at the Library of Congress, and offers introductions to many of the pieces. Authors range from unknown scribblers to Eudora Welty and Nelson Algren. Kurlansky discussed the book with Rick Nichols of the Philadelphia Inquirer before a modest crowd at the National Constitution Center Thursday evening.

I browsed a few short chapters while waiting for the program to begin and found the book fascinating, from discussions of chowder and the proper way to make a mint julep, to Nebraska Fries and Menudo soup, the articles are a joy.

The original FWP plan was to publish five regional food books as a follow up to its American guide series to every state and most major cities. Editors were named for each of the five regions; they tended to be estabished writers, while the writers of individual contributions on local foodways were mainly aspiring writers, some quite homespun. With America’s entry into World War II the project was abandoned.

CSPANN was there to record the session, so expect to see it any weekend now on the cable network’s Book TV segments.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

We’ve Gone Beta

We've got a new version of Robert’s Market Report in the test stage, with a new design and some added tools. I’d appreciate any comments on the site’s design and tools. Visit the "beta" blog at:

One feature that’s been added is the ability to subscribe to an RSS feed. Try it, you’ll like it!

Visit the test blog and just click on the "Comments" link following the "We've Gone Beta" entry to tell me what you think.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Headhouse Market Wows

It’s more than nice to see the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market back for its third Sunday season. It’s reinvigorating. Wow! Now spring is really here.

I counted 28 vendors. Among the produce vendors, you could gather plenty of goodies: all types of spring and over-wintered greens, rhubarb, radishes, mushrooms, scallions (Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm poses with his crop in photo at right), leeks, asparagus and even a few local, though still hothouse, tomatoes. Plenty of seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs of all sorts) were available from just about every produce stand, as well as the plant vendors. Tom Culton of Culton Organics featured fennel and fava beans in addition to greens. Plenty of poultry and meat products (frozen) could be had, as well as local cheeses. (I tasted Birchrun Hills Farm’s Alpine variety; it was billed as Emmenthal-like, but I found it more assertive in taste; where Emmenthal is nutty, this was a squirrel’s hoard concentrated into milkfat. I loved it.)

If you gathered up those spring greens, you couldn't do much better than turn them into a Greek-style pie similar to spanakopita, like cookbook author Aliza Green did, with help from local cooking doyenne Betty Kaplan and, briefly, Mayor Michael Nutter (in photo at right with Aliza). Green, who was on hand to sign copies of her many food guides and cookbooks (including her most recent: Starting with Ingredients: Baking), used sorrel, dandelion, mustard greens, dill and whatever other spring greens she could round up (but not kale or collards: too tough and strong for this delicate dish).

Nicky Uy, Jon Glynn and Kathy Wich of The Food Trust’s Farmers Market program and the rest of the Trust’s staff and volunteers did a great job in making opening day of the Sunday Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market season a success.

Here’s a full list of the vendors for opening day:

  • A.T. Buzby Farm
  • Barbi-Lu’s Salso
  • Betsy’s Tasty Buttons
  • Birchrun Hills Farm
  • Blooming Glen Farm
  • Busy Bee Farm
  • Culton Organics
  • Dancing Hen Farm
  • Griggstown Quail Farm
  • Happy Cat Organics
  • Hillcrest Prided Cheese
  • Hurley’s Nursery
  • Joe’s Coffee Bar
  • Longview Flowers
  • Marcelle’s Bakery (formerly Versailles)
  • Mountain View Poultry
  • Natural Meadows Farm
  • Queen’s Farm
  • Puppy Oove Homeade
  • Savoie Farm
  • Spring Hill Farms Maple Syrup
  • Stargazers Wines
  • Sweet Lucy’s BBQ
  • Three Springs Fruit Farm
  • Wild Flower Bakery
  • Weaver’s way
  • Yoder Heirlooms
  • Young’s Garden

Whole Foods, lead sponsor of the market this year, was there, too, handing out free reuseable shopping bags.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Fairmount, Saturday Headhouse Markets

About 10 vendors are expected at the May 9 opening of the Saturday version of the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

Davidson Exotic Mushrooms, Black Bird Heritage Farm (open-pollinated heirloom produce), La Colombe Coffee, Spice of Life gluten-free bakery, Slow Rise Bakery, Two Ganders Farm (honey) and Young’s Garden are among the Headhouse vendors scheduled for the opening Saturday. In June Glass Jar Gourmets (spreads) will join the roster. The Saturday market will be held on the east side of Second Street adjacent to the Shambles.

Fairmount opens this Thursday with Earl Livengood qs one of the anchors. Also returning is Bill Weller, who opens the season with seedlings and potted plants and later will bring his produce. New to the market will be Country Meadows Farms (Reuben and Amos Lapp) with frozen beef, broilers, lambs, turkeys, pullets, as well as eggs. Versailles will be there under its new name, Marcel’s Bakery.

In other Food Trust farmers’ market news, the South Street West market is changing its venue to the corner of Broad & South, hoping to catch some subway commuters. It was located at South & 15th.

Dining at Headhouse

Los Taquitos won’t be rejoining the Headhouse Square Sunday Farmers’ Market until May 24, but you won’t go hungry. This Sunday and again on May 17 Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse will set up by the Shambles.

Whole Foods Sponsors Headhouse

Last year, it was V-8. This year Whole Foods is the lead sponsor of the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market sponsored by The Food Trust.

It seemed curious to me that a putative competitor would underwrite the farmers’ market. Not so to Nicky Uy, who manages the farmers’ market project for The Food Trust.

“We’re competitors, but we’re also colleagues,” she explained. “We’re both part of the local food movement and strengthen each other. And we share many of the same vendors.”

That same theme was sounded by Fred Shank, spokesperson for Whole Foods.

“We’re trying to promote local agriculture in the communities we serve,” said Shank. What Whole Foods is doing in Philadelphia is similar to its efforts in Manhattan, where a flagship Whole Foods store is located across Union Square from the main Greenmarket.

“Just like at Greenmarket, there are farmers who sell there and we also buy their foods for sale in our store,” he said. “Our store-based buying program allows each store to tailor its product mix to its location. We encourage each store to be as local as possible, with 10 percent of pur products being locally sourced.”

Whole Foods sponsors farmers’ markets across the country, usually by hosting farmers in the chain’s parking lots, though it also offers financial support to some independent markets like Headhouse.

So, why does the Headhouse market need sponsors? Because it’s the only market operated by The Food Trust which pays rent, in this case to the South Street Headhouse Business District for use of the Shambles.

Although Whole Foods is the lead sponsor, other organizations and businesses which have signed on include: Center City District, City Planter, Head House Books, the Head House Conservancy, Philly Car Share, Slow Food Philadelphia, South Street Headhouse District, PA Preferred, Pumpkin, and Weaver’s Way Coop.