Chill Winds Greet Portland Farmer's Market Opening Day
Despite morning temperatures in the low 30s, last Saturday marked the opening day of the outdoor Portland Farmer’s Market in Deering Oaks Park — an occasion that might otherwise be anxiously awaited were it not for the popularity of the indoor winter market that Portlanders attended in great numbers since late December.
Many shoppers, including myself, have gotten used to the idea of having both indoor and outdoor markets year round. From York to Orono, these off-season markets are as busy as yard sales in the 30 locales where they operate.
For now, the intermittently mild spring weather is pushing some spring crops a few weeks ahead of schedule as outdoor markets start revving up. I rushed down to Deering Park by 7:30 hoping to find some early asparagus. As it turned out, Snell Family Farm of Buxton had one little bundle left out of a handful that they were able to cut, and I grabbed it like a bag of gold.
Other spring produce is trickling in. Jodie Jordan of Alewive Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth had some rhubarb, though he said it was probably a bit too soon to start cutting.
Year-round farm vendors like Chris and Gallit Cavendish of Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham had spring lettuces, radishes, scallions, leeks, bok choy, and spinach grown in the ground in protected hoop houses.
There are nearly 100 outdoor markets in Maine—the largest assemblage in New England--and the breath of what these vendors bring is astounding. At most markets heritage cuts of beef, lamb, mutton, and pork are available. More and more fisherman are at the markets, too, with locally harvested lobster, mussels, haddock, shrimp, and scallops.
Pastured chicken and eggs are the norm at farmer’s stands everywhere, and baked goods and prepared food have become big draws to an avid customer base.
Dairy products are more prevalent too. These farmers offer a tempting array of milk, cream, yogurt, and some very well crafted cheeses. The cheddar, for example, from Diversity Farm in Troy, is available at the winter and summer Brunswick markets, and it’s as good as the best English or Canadian cheddars.
Swallowtail Farm which sells in Portland and other towns has been a steady fixture at both the Wednesday and Saturday markets offering their raw milk cheese, bottled milk, and yogurts. Another creamery that’s new to the Saturday lineup is manned by Doug Donahue from Balfour Farm in Pittsfield whose been a steady vendor at the Monument Square market on Wednesdays all winter long because his customers rely on him, he says, for the high quality raw milk that the farm produces.
What’s been given short shrift at Portland markets are baked goods and prepared foods. In fact, most other markets around the state offer everything literally from soup to nuts. In Brunswick for example, you can buy Mexican prepared dishes from Debrah Gaspardi, a Freeport caterer whose stand Mi Mexico is very popular, especially her taco chips, made from Maine sourced corn flour, generously salted and enhanced with a slight tang of lime. Other goodies include the chowders from Maine Saltwater Creations, or the old fashioned pies, cookies, and cakes from Judy’s Kitchen, whose lemon roll, for instance, is a classic.
One reason why the Portland markets are somewhat constrained is that the city's charter has saddled it with an arcane list of “forbidden products.” I was reminded of this when I encountered two new vendors at Saturday’s Deering Oaks Park market — My Three Sisters Italian Cookies and Bakery and Baskets, both of whom had brought some tempting sweets.
The city’s treatise on farmer’s markets emphatically states, in part,that it “does not allow for the sale of such items as rice crispy squares, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fudge or brownies….”
So if you see those offending cookies or wedges of fudge at the market, a chorus call of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the city’s code enforcement officer might render this deliciousness "toot sweet."
Note: Broaden your horizons with some good day trip market destinations that include the coastal markets of Camden, Belfast and Rockland; and inland try Waterville, Augusta and Skowhegan. For a complete list go to www.mofga.net
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org