BY TOM YATES
Tulips, daffodils, horse racing, and strong mint juleps are sure signs that spring has sprung here in Lexington. For food lovers, locavores, or anyone who respects the integrity of locally grown food, spring really begins when the farmers’ market fresh-grown offerings arrive. It always seems like an eternity since the vendors sold their last end-of-season pawpaws and gourds before shifting to the winter market staples of chicken, beef, pork, lamb, goat, sweet potatoes, onions, dried beans, greens, and turnips.
Although gloomy and overcast on opening day last year, the atmosphere at the market was upbeat and lively. Everyone was simply happy to be there. Vendors, shoppers, musicians, babies, and dogs all embraced opening day knowing there was a fabulous growing season ahead. The farmers’ market was back in business!
There was an abundance of gorgeous early cool weather lettuces, herbs, tomato plants, and flowers. A few vendors offered out-of-state selections of tomatoes, corn, cabbages, yellow squash and strawberries.
We usually make a couple of rounds through the market before actually purchasing anything. Not on the first day though. We were caught up in the excitement of being there, surrounded by fresh lush greenery.
We started our trek down the center aisle of the Pavilion. It was early. Early enough to score a dozen brown organic eggs from Elmwood Stock Farm before they ran out. They always run out. Next to Elmwood Stock, a Boyle County farm offered dew dripping red and green leaf lettuces, still with their tiny root ends attached and neatly wrapped in bundles.
We stumbled across a tasting of Sapori d’ Italia goat cheese. Tiny nibbles of Agri alle Erbe, young cold-aged fresh goat cheese, were topped with smoked paprika, red pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. They were made the day before and were very fresh, tangy, and creamy. We bought two.
I was drawn to a Mercer County vendor selling an interesting collection of herbs. Although dwarfed by gigantic leaves of cabbage and broccoli plants, his herbs rocked. The most intriguing was “Salad Herb,” a delicate whisper of an herb that “the herb man” said tastes like cucumber. I went back the next Saturday to snag a few of those before they disappeared for the season.
We sampled beer cheese and chocolate truffles before stopping by Quarles Quality Beef from Waddy, Kentucky. After tasting their beer-steamed brats, we picked up a package of brats, a pound of short ribs, corn relish, and jam cake.
As we strolled around the back side of the market munching on chocolate croissants from Sunrise Bakery, I stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted huge Bracken County oyster mushrooms protruding from tiny baskets. They were colossal and beautiful. I left with one as big as my head.
The market wasn’t crowded this time last year. Even with musicians and barking dogs, it was pleasantly quiet and calm.
When the big time harvests start rolling in, all of Lexington Farmers’ Markets will explode.
I can’t wait.
This story also appears on pages 10 and 11 of the April 2017 edition of the Hamburg Journal.