This city market still has all the real things

JACQUES KELLY

January 18, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The unpretentious Northeast Market has yet to be sullied by any stain of trendiness.

It's a city market that isn't trying to be a sushi bar or fast-food grease pit. It's still a place to buy turnips, fresh chicken wings, turkey necks, souse and unbagged Utz potato chips.

Comestibles do not have the aisles entirely to themselves. Some merchants sell frizzy wigs, fuchsia hats, brassy earrings and bronze-framed religious picture.

Located at Monument, Chester and McElderry streets, the municipally owned market is essentially an expansive shed protected by a heavily trussed roof. Beginning in the 1880s, horses and wagons loaded with the wares of the fields and fruit trees rolled down Harford and Belair roads.

"The old market wasn't much. It was open air, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It was just farmers and meat stalls and a couple of widow ladies who sold dry goods -- odd lots of dresses and handbags," recalled Mary Liersemann Trzcinski, whose father, Charles Liersemann, founded his Northeast Market stall in 1912.

Today her daughter, Loretta Curran, is officially in charge of the family operation. She sells spices, coconut, flowers and dairy products, some of it from the old Liersemann family farm just inside the Beltway on East Avenue.

Today it's called Overlea-Fullerton, but her granddad called it Raspeburg. He and his wife raised garden produce and flowers. They also sold eggs and hand-churned butter.

About nine years ago, Loretta and her mother expanded their business by buying out a small coconut-grating operation from stall owner George Cavano.

"People will come back three or four times a year just to get the fresh-grated coconut," said Loretta Curran.

She sells it three ways -- grated, in bite size chunks and in pint jars of coconut milk.

The Northeast Market seems to stay in business this way, offering varieties of foods that would bring on checkout computer meltdown at a standard chain supermarket.

Its patronage is an interesting people mix of Northeast Baltimore residents out to do basic shopping and socializing. They often pass the time in a real food court, a very friendly seating area in the market's midsection.

Mixed in with the locals are dozens of Johns Hopkins Hospital employees who are easily identified by their plastic-coated name tags. Other medical people wear operating room garb. Some dangle stethoscopes.

There's always plenty of action at the market's heavily atmospheric and aromatic seafood stall at the McElderry Street side of the operation.

Here Clifford Rose of Shore Seafood (founded in 1943) cleans fish faster than most people can say, "Lake Trout." He practically doesn't have to look at the fish as he severs the head, incises its body and strips out bones.

Rose wears a gold charm around his neck. If you look at it long enough, you realize it's a miniature oyster knife, a reminder of the oyster shucking contest first-place awards he's racked up.

For $3.50, you can get a plate of fresh-shucked oysters at his family's raw bar, really just a corner of the larger seafood stall he operates with his father and brothers.

But the big seller here is what Baltimoreans call Lake Trout, which is really whiting, a fish caught from Massachusetts to New Jersey.

"The thing people look for in a fish is that it doesn't taste fishy and it isn't boney," he said.

Another bustling (strictly take a number) stall is Richardson's, another sprawling enterprise of vegetables and poultry that remains true to its raised-on-the-farm origins. The family has a large chicken farm at White Marsh, off Ebenezer Road and U.S. 40, and another 159 acres in cultivation in Glen Arm.

It doesn't take much coaxing for family patriarch Bill Richardson to tell you he's the largest greens grower in the state -- turnip, collard and mustard greens and kale.

People come here to buy stewing chickens -- not a young tender hen, but one that's been laying eggs for more than a year. If cooked long enough, it'll give the flavor that grandmother insisted upon for her Sunday dinner.

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