Sunday, June 19, 2011

 Beechwood Orchards at Headhouse
Berries and  Cherries

Summer's bounty of  berries and cherries could be found at most markets this weekend.

Over at Beechwood Orchards at Headhouse I purchased $5/quart pie cherries, which I'll transfom into sherbet and/or cobbler. Beechwood also had them at Rittenhouse yesterday. Another stone fruit also made a Beechwood appearance, apricots, at $3.75/pint. Dave Garretson didn't have many, but expects more in coming weeks.

Beechwood's sweet cherries (red or the yellow-pink Rainiers) were $7/quart, compared to Three Springs Fruit Farm's $8 (two pint price) for reds. Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce sold reds Saturday for $6.99/pound, which translate to about $9/quart. His Queen Annes were pricier, at $7.99/pound.

(Garretson said he sells Rainiers rather than Queen Anne's because the latter are easy to "fingerprint," i.e., they bruise as soon as you pick them with your fingers.)

Blueberries from local growers are also in season, whether they come from the commercial (but nonetheless quite tasty) South Jersey growers ($3.75/pint, iirc) or farmers market vendors (about $5/pint).

Raspberries, both red and black, could also be purchased. Beechwood's cost $5 for a half-pint box. Some vendors still feature strawberries for $6-$7/quart.

Asparagus has disappeared for all practical puposes, but there are lots of other veggies to replace them. Summer squashes are abundant, and eggplant is now available, too -- $1 apiece for Sicilian or regular at A.T. Buzby's Headhouse stall today. Green and yellow string beans, sugar snap peas, sweet or English peas (shelled or still in the pod), garlic scapes, cucumbers (regular "garden" cukes, kirby cukes for pickling and "seedless" varieties. The last type makes fantastic "quick" Scandinavian style pickles to serve alongside cold salmon. Boiled new potatoes (also abundant at local markets) makes another excellent accompaniment to that salmon. And you've got lots of choice in greens for both cooking and salads. Beets and turnips are also widely available.

Leafy herbs -- parsley and cilantro among them -- are also easy to find now, as are spring onions.

If you can't wait another month, corn is available but you'll pay dearly. Buzby had white ears today priced at 75-cents apiece. I'll wait for peak season when even Tom Culton will occasionally sell his (including the mirai variety) at less than half that price.
Culton Beauty Shots

Although I only occasionally purchase produce from Tom Culton at Headhouse, it's hard to beat his seemingly random (but in truth, carefully composed) display of heirloom fruits and veggies. Herewith, some photos. As always, click on photo to see an enlarged version.

Persian, a.k.a. Israeli, cucumbers

Green and wax string beans

Blueberries and red currants

Patty pan squash

Half-pint boxes of shelled peas

Mixed potatoes
Culton and the rear of his stall last week
Another Market, Another Controversy

Borough Market, during my 2002 visit when it
boasted only a few dozen vendors
It's hard to have a public market without an occasional kertuffle. But the current brou-ha-ha at London's Borough Market is a doozy.

The market evicted eight of its 120 "traders" for disloyalty in making disparaging remarks about Borough Market, according to Peter Wilkinson, the trust's chairman. The dispute appears to be centered upon by the decision of a handful of vendors to open what they claim are primarily storage and production facilities about a mile away under railway viaducts in Maltby Street.

If you're interested in the blow-by-blow, you can read these articles and commentaries (for as long as they are accessible) from The Guardian:

June 12
June 16
June 18
Market Makes 'Secret' Official

Calling it one of the "worst kept 'secrets' in the market" RTM General Manager Paul Steinke put out his regular market newsletter to merchants yesterday confirming the moves reported here a week ago: Dinic's to Ochs' vacant space, Spataro's to Dinic's, and Flying Monkey to Spataro's.

The only change is Spice Terminal's location. Instead of moving slightly to the east so Flying Monkey can get the larger space it needs, it will move to where Steinke originally intended for the cupcakerie: on Avenue D in the space now occupied by refrigerators, behind the wall displaying photos of markets from around the world. One or two new vendors will be located to Spice Terminal's space and the seating area to the east, which will disappear. (Replacement seating will be available in the new multi-purpose space on the back side of Avenue D).

Steinke's newsletter also reported that market traffic -- the number of visitors entering its doors -- for the first five months of 2011 is four percent head of last year. The May numbers were 6.3 percent ahead: 533,680.

Expect big crowds beginning next weekend when 20,000 teachers descend upon the Convention Center for the June 26-29 meeting of the International Society for Technology in Education.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The less crowded side of Headhouse, home of Otolith
(shown here), Happy Cat,
Yogi-ism at Headhouse

No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded -- Yogi Berra

Enter the Sunday Headhouse Square farmers' market from the Lombard Street side and find yourself enveloped in an over-populated mass of humanity, squeezed between Blooming Glen's pristine display of greens, squashes and radishes on the left and Wild Flour Bakery's baguettes and brioche rolls on the right.

Wander just a little further down and join the line where they must be giving produce away.  Oops. No, it's Tom Culton and Matt Yoder's lengthy stall, filled with exotic produce you never knew existed. And they are definitely not giving it away.

In manoeuvering through the Times-Square-on-New-Year's-Eve conglomeration you've also got to contend with double-wide prams and dogs on leashes threatening to trip passersby flat on their derrières.

But keep on walking. As you draw nearer to Pine Street the crowd thins, making shopping at Headhouse almost pleasurable.
Happy Cat Organics
Root Mass Farm

Savoie Organic Farm
Vendors at the far end of the Headhouse market suffer from their location. Just ask Dave Garrettson of Beechwood Orchards, who saw his sales increase when he obtained a slot nearer the center of the Shambles.

So if you want to insure a variety of producers at Headhouse, be sure to patronize vendors near the Lombard Street end for more than tacos, lemonade or a sausage sandwich. You'll find great purveyors of produce and protein.

Like Otolith Sustainable Seafood, the peripatetic Alaskan seafood purveyor. Their blast-frozen frozen vacuum-packed seafood is usually no more expensive or within a couple of dollars per pound of the price you'd pay at retail fish stores. And if you buy prawns, rockfish, pacific cod, or sablefish (a.k.a. black cod) from Otolith, you'll be making your purchase from the same people who caught it: Amanda Bossard, Otolith's owner, and her husband, Murat Aritan, who fish Alaskan waters for those species on their 65-foot long-liner. The other fish they sell, primarily salmon and halibut, are purchased from other harvesters who "share our commitment to sustainability," says Bossard

Also closer to the Pine Street end is Happy Cat Organics of Kennett Square. You won't find the masses of produce that some other vendors offer, but what you will find is choice. This week Tim had lots of different onions and plenty of radishes, among other items.

Savoie Organic Farm is the place to go for potatoes, though that's hardly all Barry and Carol Savoie offer. This past week they had plenty of fresh greens and radishes, but the new potato harvest is getting underway, too. They typically produce 10 different varieties of specialty potatoes, including Onaway, Red Cloud, Rose Gold, Carola, All Blue, Cranberry Red, Butte Russet, and Rose Finn Apple fingerlings on their South Jersey farm.

Root Mass Farm in Oley offers all the good produce we expect this time of year:  garlic scapes, salad and cooking greens, radishes, green onions, snap peas, asparagus, etc. But if you want to learn something about farming, check out Lindsey's and Landon's video, all about how to use a broad fork to disrupt hardpan. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

RTM Musical Chairs: Continued

Flying Monkey will move to Spataro's spot
Since Michael Klein in his The Insider blog today picked up and added to my report yesterday on DiNic's forthcoming move to the vacated Ochs' location, here's the rest of the story (much of it also reported by Michael):

The prime reason for all the musical chairs is Flying Monkey's lease for its center court spot. Originally the market wanted to move Flying Monkey to a new spot where coolers are now located (behind the wall displaying photos from pubic markets around the globe), but that wouldn't be on center court. Flying Monkey proprietor Elizabeth Halen would have been put at a locational handicap, so with the opening of the Ochs' spot, the musical chairs began.

Getting the cupcakerie on center court will be accomplished by moving to the Spataro's spot once they move into DiNic's space. Flying Monkey will get some additional space from The Spice Terminal, which will extend a bit into the current seating area astride the existing Flying Monkey location.

Paul Steinke hopes that the move of DiNic's will reduce congestion at the nexus of center court, which long lines waiting for roast pork sandwiches create a traffic jam from for one or two hours every lunch time. DiNic's additional seating may help as well.

Beer Garden Progress

Vinnie Iovine reports he and brother Jim received Philadelphia Historical Commission approval for their design on Friday. They still have some minor tweaks and approvals to obtain, but none that they see standing in the way. Once everything is in hand, expect a shut down of the Beer Garden after the Independence Day holiday for a month of renovations. When they reopen as Molly Molloy's, the entrance will be from center court and feature a gastro-pub menu from Bobby Fisher, who has long served as chef of the Iovines' catering operations.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vacant Ochs stall
DiNic's Will Move
To Ochs'Location

Merchants will be playing musical chairs for the rest of the year as the Reading Terminal Market begins its major reconstruction project. One of the first moves will be by DiNic's to the center court stall vacated by Harry G. Ochs & Sons.

Before it's over, expect at least three more center court merchants either to move to new spots along center court or alter their footprint, according to sources who did not wish to be identified because details are not yet settled for any except the DiNic's move, which still awaits signatures. All the subsequent moves, as currently proposed, rely upon the DiNic's relocation.

As we reported in February (see original story here) the market will move Flying Monkey out of its current center court location to create a demonstration kitchen and meeting space along the Avenue D rear wall, and create additional retail space which will require adjustments to existing merchant footprints.

Additional moves of merchants along Center Court could be firmed up and announced as early as next week.

DiNic's current Center Court space
Alert shoppers may have noticed a sign at the now vacant Market Blooms spot on Avenue C, between Giunta's and Coastal Cave, announcing that L. Halteman's will shift its footprint to take over that space, since they will lose part of their existing footage to the Avenue D project. Preliminary plans call for Halteman's deli counter to front on Avenue C. Market Blooms continues to operate its Avenue A space along the 12th Street side of the market.

Paul Steinke, the RTM's general manager, emphasized that the market will retain the existing ratios of purveyors to food court businesses, although the locations within the market are subject to change.

Steinke said he is evaluating applications from a large number of potential vendors encompassing all four categories of merchants: Purveyors, Food Basket, Mercantile and Food Court. (For a more detailed description of those categories, see my article on RTM Lease Structure here.)

The market's mission statement calls for it to provide a wide variety of produce, meat, fish, bakery and dairy products, and other raw and prepared food. Its Operating Policy Guidelines specify that in filling vacancies general preference be given to growers and purveyors of local and regional produce, and that businesses offering food intended primarily or exclusively for consumption within the market be limited to no more that the greater of one-third of the total businesses in the market, or one-third of the total leasable area of the Market.

DiNic's move will make its operations much more efficient, since Ochs is a considerably larger space and also features a walk-in refrigerator, which will eliminate the need to haul meats from storage areas elsewhere in the market. They will also be able to double seating capacity. A probable addition to the menu will be meatballs.

Sweet and Queen Anne cherries at
Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce

Cherries Arrive, Priced Dearly

As Benuel Kauffman told me a couple days ago, he did, indeed, have cherries at his Reading Terminal stall today. But they didn't come cheaply.

In previous seasons, Ben priced his berries by the pint or quart. At least for the start of the season, he's pricing them per pound. The red cherries today were $5.99, the Queen Anne variety $6.99. Since a pint weighs out at about three-quarters of a pound, the pint price for the reds works out to about $4.50, a buck more than last year's $3.50. Since this year's crop is expected to be decent, figure the price should come down as more vendors offer the first of the season's stone fruits. Last year, West Coast cherries sold for as little as 59-cents a pound at Iovine Brothers.

Earlier this week I reported that Iovine's red bell peppers were unexpectedly cheaper than the frying peppers, $1.99 a pound vs. $2.49. Today the price of the latter came down $1.99. Meanwhile Vinnie Iovine was touting his Georgia peaches (he joked is staff mis-spelled the price card, as "Spothern" rather than "Southern" peaches. He says although rock hard, they are considerably sweeter than the California's he sent back to his wholesaler.

Back at Ben Kauffman's he had a full complement of spring veggies today, including a number of different onions. Here are the photos:

Local lettuces

Asparagus, snow peas, new red potatoes and what may be the last of the strawberries

White and red scallions, string beans, two colors of new potatoes and red onions

Green and yellow squash, more spring onions, sweet peas in the pod, cucumbers

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Strawberry Season Fades in Heat Wave
But Cherries May Make It To Market This Weekend

Shopper at Beechwood Orchard's stall
at Rittenhouse Square last Saturday.
While May weather created some of the sweetest, most flavorful and juiciest strawberries I've sampled in recent years, the extreme temperatures of June are making it a short season.

The normal peak of the local strawberry season is early to mid-June, with late season berries continuing until the Fourth of July. But it looks like we'll only have another week of berries from most growers.

But fear not: sweet cherries from local orchards should appear this weekend, according to Benuel Kauffman, who operates Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal Market. Ben says sour cherries for baking should be available by the end of the month.

Iovine Brothers' Produce at the Reading Terminal Market only sold berries from Bucks County's Shady Brook Farm for a few weeks; their season is done with now.

Prices at the RTM and local farmers' markets have ranged from $5 to $8/quart for strawberries, with most vendors at about $7. It's possible that if a vendor has a bunch of heat-softened, less than pristine looking (but incredibly flavorful) berries, you might be able to cut a deal. They'd be great for preserves or ice cream. I'm planning to turn the quart I bought from Ben today into sherbet (which is nothing more than a sorbet with some milk added).

Snow peas and new red potatoes at Kauffman's.
Don't expect to see local asparagus for much longer either, or the more tender lettuces, like Bibb. The latter does particularly poorly when Mother Nature raises the thermostat setting.

Beets, however, have started to turn up at farmers' markets. Some red baby beets I roasted last week (purchased from Blooming Glen at Headhouse) were sweet as could be.

Local cucumbers have also started to make their appearance. Fair Food at the RTM and A.T. Buzby at Headhouse were selling them at three for a buck; Iovine's had South Jersey beauties at five for a buck. I made some great kosher pickles (just a salt brine with pickling spices, no vinegar) this week. Iovines was also selling salad cucumbers at two for a buck.

The hot weather means it's a fine time for potato salad. All the local markets have baby red potatoes which are ideal. I used Mark Bittman's recipe last week, which calls for some onion and radish (I also added a little celery). When the potatoes are still hot, toss them in a mustard vinaigrette.

Boiled red potatoes were a traditional accompaniment to local salmon in New England, back when local streams still had vibrant Atlantic salmon runs. Those days are long gone, but John Yi at the RTM had a price break on wild Alaskan king salmon today: $19.99/pound; last week it was $21.99. Sockeye was, iirc, $15.99. The king filet I slow roasted a week or so ago was superb.

Queens Farm offered favas, sweet peas, sugar
snaps and snow peas Sunday at Headhouse.
Legumes are also making their seasonal debut, as seen at Queens Farm at Headhouse last Sunday. They were selling favas at $2.50/pound, sweet peas at $2 a pint, both in the pod. 

Those peas, the last of the asparagus and some carrots would make a great pasta primavera.

It's too hot to make Chile Relenos, but Iovine's had some fantastic looking, large poblanos today. They and the jalapenos were priced at 99-cents a pound. Red bells were $1.99, half a buck cheaper than the frying peppers.