Holiday buyers pounce on city farmers' market

Buyers and sellers relish open market

November 20, 2006|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,sun reporter

Erika Linnander surveyed the piles of fungi in front of her. The table was covered with shitake, mitake, yellow oyster and abalone mushrooms, just to name a few. A cylindrical metal smoker nearby filled the air with the savory smell of cooking portabellos.

"Can I help you with something?" a young, dark-haired woman behind the table asked.

Linnander pointed to a box stuffed with mushrooms of different sizes and colors. "I'm going to take the mix," she told the vendor.

Like many of the shoppers milling around in the crisp morning air yesterday at the Baltimore Farmers' Market, Linnander, a Johns Hopkins student who lives in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood, was stocking up for Thanksgiving dinner.

She joined fellow students yesterday morning to wander among the stands selling fresh produce, hot food and crafts. The coming holiday brought thick crowds of shoppers to the market, located under the Jones Falls Expressway near its terminus in downtown Baltimore.

When the market opened at 8 a.m., shoppers could still see their breath in the cold air. The rows of stands were separated by white panel trucks from which vendors unloaded produce and other wares out onto the tables.

Linnander, who wore a stocking cap pulled over her ears, said her father likes to cook and that she planned to take the mushrooms home to Virginia so he could prepare them. "I have no idea what they are," she said of the fungi. "But I hope he likes them."

A few stands away, Baltimore residents Edith Spencer and Veronica Boyd found a vendor selling bushel baskets of collard greens for $10 apiece. Spencer had already bought sweet potatoes and celery, but said she needed greens to go with the turkey she planned to bake.

About a dozen baskets were lined up on the ground next to the vendor's truck. "Give me that one," Spencer said, pointing to a basket. A woman working at the stand took the basket and emptied its leafy contents into a big black trash bag.

Spencer, who said she planned to split the greens with Boyd, is a regular at the market. "They have the best food anywhere around Thanksgiving and Christmas," she said. "You can't find food like this in the supermarket."

Standing nearby, Boyd nodded in agreement and laughingly added, "You're not going to get no trash bag full of greens."

The market was a potpourri of smells. Cinnamon predominated near a stand selling hot apple cider. Sandalwood incense burned at another. And the aroma of roasting beef and grilling sausages attracted a long line of customers to yet another.

Fresh-baked bread from Uptown Bakery caught the attention of Wanda Hedgepeth of Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood. She bought a Danish for her 14-year-old daughter, Shannon.

"We love it," she said of the market. "I love the open air. You see people you haven't seen in a while. It takes you back to the old Baltimore."

By 10 a.m., when bells rang at a nearby church and the market's aisles were crowded, Antowan Chapple of West Baltimore was almost done with his shopping. But he still wanted to pick up some seasoning from Nick Nichols, a vendor from Perry Hall who peddles fiery seasonings and spice mixes at the market every weekend.

One of Nichols' products is Call Box 414 Hot Sauce, named after the fire box from which the alarm was sounded in the 1904 fire that burned much of Baltimore. Another bottle was labeled No Name Sauce.

"I just come up with this stuff," said Nichols, a gregarious former chili cook-off champion. One recent addition was a cranberry salsa mix. "I came up with that in two hours," he boasted.

Chapple bought two bottles of Nick's Brand barbecue sauce for making chicken wings.

"This stuff is great," he said, "It's homemade, and the price is reasonable."

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