Denied my rhubarb fix the previous week (all sold out), I toured three Baltimore farmers' markets in 84 hours to land this elusive vegetable. The rhubarb season is short and neatly overlaps with soft-crab time. Its devotees are apparently few but aggressive.
I hit rhubarb pay dirt at both the Waverly and the downtown markets - and saw the initial test day for a new market in Northeast Baltimore's Lauraville. Is Baltimore growing outdoor market-crazy? The markets were packed with customers. It was like the old City Fairs of the 1970s, but not at all like the first downtown farmers' market near today's Port Discovery on Marketplace. That first market was tiny by today's gangbuster standards.
The city likes to promote the downtown Sunday morning market as an urban amenity. It is a happening place, full of wholesome energy and great for people watching. Yet my claustrophobia meter was spinning by the morning's end. Maybe too many people?
The people who fill their bags and car trunks at the downtown market are the type of Baltimoreans who will go happily to the Fallsway and Gay Street but will skip Harborplace or the Gallery.
It's strange to see normally lifeless streets populated by the hordes who cram into the relatively tight space under the Jones Falls Expressway. You could argue it's a terrible location, but there would be a revolution if you tried to reform it or move it. I love the fact that the market is a short walk to the state penitentiary and seems to be surrounded by buildings related to criminal justice. Lending a pleasant note are the huge bells at Zion Lutheran Church and City Hall. When they get going, these deeply resonant chimes make a Sunday morning seem important.
Judging by the long, slow-moving lines that formed for coffee, breakfast foods and snacks, the market patrons are hungry and ready to spend. No wonder. It's rare to find an open restaurant in downtown Baltimore on Sunday mornings.
Friends have told me that Waverly's market at 32nd and Barclay streets (Saturday mornings only) is snooty by comparison. I don't agree. In general, snob attitudes lose traction in Baltimore. The Waverly market is a diverse cross-section of North Baltimore. Like its downtown counterpart, it is growing and, at times, almost too busy. Certain foods sell out early.
This is my walk-to market (bus or cab home), and I enjoy observing the turnout for market mornings. Most people drive, but some also walk, and it's not unusual to see carrot greens popping out of carrier bags many blocks distant.
I often take a different route to the market. The spring rains have provided a bumper crop of roses. The backyards and little gardens of old Waverly and Charles Village always put me in a buying mood.
My Loyola High School classmate, City Council member Robert Curran, invited me to Tuesday's opening of a new evening mini-market in Lauraville at Harford Road and Montebello Terrace. For a first-ever try, a vacant lot was full of happy people and a handful of vendors. No rhubarb here, however. This market is in its early stage. The neighborhood seemed excited, even joyous, about the event. Now, if the farmers show, there'll be turnips and strawberries on some Grindon Avenue dining room table. I have every confidence.