Discovering autumn's tastes and traditions at the market

November 22, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

I'M A sucker for the fall, when weird vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and turnips come into their own and into my kitchen. There is something nostalgic about these dishes. I recall my childhood and having my taste buds aroused by walking in the front vestibule after school and smelling a pot roast with carrots and gravy.

The other standout fall banquets were sour beef and dumplings and roast pork with sauerkraut. I also associated these telltale domestic smells with seasonal housecleaning, and other odors, say the scent of paste wax. This is something you don't forget soon.

For some reason these past few weeks I've been on a fall market pilgrimage, visiting the outdoor markets under the Jones Falls Expressway and in Waverly and, of course, Lexington Market. I also went farther afield, off to the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia and the Allentown Farmers Market in that Pennsylvania city.

One sure sign of the cool weather in Baltimore is when the guys who run the Konstant stall at Lexington Market start making their molasses nut taffy and peanut brittle again. They give these two molar-destroyers a break over the summer. Baltimore's heat and humidity are not conducive to certain kinds of candy-making. Could you imagine sugar-based taffy on a blistering July afternoon?

I like the Lexington Market's current advertising promotion aimed at selling the place to people who don't know it. The old place remains a city joy. The more crowded it gets, the more I like to plow through the aisles. I swear, there are sights in our downtown market that have not changed since I was a boy.

Lexington Market retains an earthy, unperfumed style it shares with the Allentown Market. Markets are great places for people watching. The Allentown citizens look as if they just stepped off a North German Lloyd steamer from the Old Country. There were lines forming for the hot lunches (chicken pot pie) and side orders of sweet potatoes.

I thought my association of autumn foods with cleaning was my own invention, but I had that notion shattered in Allentown. Right in the middle of its market is a sizable stall devoted to vacuum cleaners, replacement bags and repairs. The fellow tending the spot was doing a brisk business, too.

Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market has been glitzed up some in recent years, but I won't hold that against it.

Sometimes we all need to reinvent ourselves, as long as the original stuff remains. This is the market for gorgeous presentations of high-end meats and vegetables, bespeaking a level of prosperity in the Quaker City. My eyes bulged out at each stall and counter. No vacuum cleaners here, though there was a curious bookstall that, once again, was loaded with customers.

My downfall here is not the cheesesteak guy, but the Bassetts ice cream counter. I like the coffee flavor here. I told the dipper to make it a double, then quickly changed my order to a triple.

I'm shameless.

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