This past Saturday in Forest Hill Park brought a rare rainy South of the James market. The shoppers who braved the elements and showed up at the market were in for a treat.
Rainy markets are not great for vendors. However, they are excellent for shoppers. Before I started volunteering at the Chef Demo tent, I shopped the market every weekend and I loved a rainy forecast. My favorite South of the James market was the one on the morning of Hurricane Irene, just hours before the storm hit central Virginia HARD. It poured all morning, and before the wind picked up too much, I headed out the farmers’ market and had a great time. I hesitate to say this, because I’m sure the farmers would disagree, but. . . Rainy markets are awesome! They are full of great surprises and treats for those courageous enough to enjoy them.
This week, Chef Sam Baker started his weekly demonstration with a cool yellow watermelon salad that had a wonderfully well-rounded flavor. Featuring yellow watermelon from Walnut Hill Farm and blackberries from Agriberry, this fruit salad was just one of the treats that awaited shoppers. Some surprising ingredients in the salad included onion, red jalapeno, basil, and red wine vinegar. Market enthusiasts showed up in head-to-toe rain gear, with umbrellas and waterproof reusable bags, in search of the gems that are sometimes hard to find on fair weather market mornings.
Kale is waning, but it was abundant at this week’s market for much longer than usual. Figs usually sell out in the first 30 minutes of the market, but they stuck around for two hours this weekend. Easier access to rare produce treasures is just another reason why rainy markets are great for shoppers.
Because wet markets are more lightly attended, everyone there takes themselves just a little less seriously. The “let’s make the best of this” attitude prevails, and vendors and shoppers alike are a bit sillier than normal. The tents may unexpectedly dump water on your head. You may remove your jacket just minutes before the clouds open again in a spontaneous downpour.
You may be distracted by the bright colors on a vendor’s table and fail to see the gigantic puddle in front of you as you step right into it. No big deal. You’ll dry out later. This market is about having fun, not keeping up appearances. When you realize you look like a drowned rat and your fingers are quickly starting to resemble prunes, you can duck into a vendor’s tent, dry off, warm up, strike up a conversation and learn something.
With more one-on-one time with vendors, shoppers have the opportunity to learn a lot more than they would at busier markets. Chef Sam talked visitors through his personal favorite recipe for butternut squash soup and fielded questions like “what should I make with this eggplant?” I shared my favorite ways to prepare okra and what fall foods I am looking forward to the most.
Butternut squash is one of them. I prepared my first local butternut squash dish of the season last week, and Chef Sam used this Veg of the Week to add a sweet, nutty heartiness to his turkey soup this weekend. Rainy Saturday mornings in late August allow you to take advantage of both summer and fall produce to create a bright summery soup that warms you to your core.
Chef Sam’s soup was just one of those special things that shoppers looked forward to while they moved from stall to stall. Some people stayed at the market a little longer than usual just to have a taste. The soup simmered two and a half hours before it was served. The Chef would have liked to let it simmer another few hours, but a big thunderstorm was rolling in so we served it as early as we could. The hearty soup featured turkey from Empress Farm, along with mushrooms, butternut squash, onion, kale, green beans, potatoes, jalapeno and fresh basil. After a bowl of this soup, market patrons could not possibly have regretted their decisions to suit up and head to the market that morning.
Maybe next time rain is in the forecast, you should add a visit to the farmers’ market to the agenda. Besides helping to support local farmers when they need it the most, you can manage to have a great time too. From a great selection of prime produce to more interaction with your farmer to fun free samples, the rainy market experience is a rewarding one.
Or, you know, stay at home. More figs for me.
Thank you to Agriberry, Empress Farm, Haas mushrooms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s tasty ingredients.