This amazing pile of stuffed peppers may not take home any beauty awards, but they win where it counts. I could barely keep the hands off them long enough to take this picture. Smith Farm in Hudson, NH had the young eggplant and the gorgeous and incredibly sweet orange and red Italian peppers that made these babies happen. Cheese by Cabot Farms. (Optional anchovies not locally sourced — sorry!)
It was near closing time when I managed to stop at the Merrimack Farmer’s Market last week. Twenty-five vendors strong and the very last one on the south end of the line, Ledge Top Farm of Wilton, had tomatoes for sale. Perfect, medium sized tomatoes and it was still June.
“Are these really yours,” I asked, skeptically.
Oh yes, I was assured. They were started in the greenhouse and they taste as fresh off the field.
I bought two, confident that I was making a mistake with my money. I have always held the opinion that tomatoes are only good for two weeks in August. Three, if you’re lucky. Otherwise they are hard, tasteless and worse of all…mealy. Even the thought of a mealy tomato makes me shudder.
I brought them home, cut one up right away, and pressed the slices with my fingers for signs of mealiness. None there. My father quickly ate them up with oil and vinegar. They were good, he said. Hmmm….yeah but he’ll eat any tomato you place in front of him.
The next day I sliced up the second one and made a sandwich with it: just tomato slices, white bread, mayo and salt. I bit into it, still waiting to be disappointed.
IT WAS DELICIOUS! I couldn’t believe it. Juicy and flavorful. I was sad that I only bought two.
The Merrimack Farmer’s Market is held every Wednesday afternoon 3-6 in the Vault parking lot (better known as the old Zyla’s), 526 Daniel Webster Hwy. That’s tomorrow. Ledge Top is an organic farm. Look for them and their tomatoes.
The growing season is just getting under way here in southern New Hampshire. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, halfway through May. A time for fiddleheads and asparagus …and eggs and meat. Maybe you’ll find some early greens from the hothouses. Maybe some farms still have some root veggies from cold storage. In a couple of weeks, we should see spring peas and some greenhouse tomatoes, new carrots and onions.
Wilson Farm Stand in Litchfield, NH opened for the season today, so I took a drive down the old Charles Bancroft Highway (Rte. 3A), a two-lane road surrounded by farmland – some productive, some fading. I was glad to see one small patch of clearcut near the center of town that appeared to be not for another instant neighborhood, but rather for more farmland! I’ll be checking back to see if that’s true.
You have to search, especially this time of year, and if they don’t purposely label something as “our own”, you can bet it was imported from parts unknown. Asparagus they had, and I picked some up. Mom loves asparagus. They also had rhubarb and fresh basil. Packaged fresh Brussels sprouts were in the cooler along with their own eggs. Wilson Farm honey is tucked in the corner. These were the only items I could find that were labeled as coming from their own farm. Pretty much what I expected.
Wilson Farm has a larger operation in Lexington, MA, where they are also importers and wholesale distributers of produce. There are all kinds of fresh produce at the stand – corn, tomatoes, peppers, citrus, onions, potatoes, etc., and they could be coming from anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s not a supermarket in the whole town of Litchfield, as far as I know. Just be aware that if you want local, you still need to hunt. And know that as the season goes on, the imported veggies will be replaced by produce from the field right behind the barn you’re standing in.
A couple of other locally-produced items you’ll find are milk from Dracut, MA’s Shaw Farm and Tub Cheese from Standish, Maine’s Squire Mountain. That cheese looked amazing. I think I’m going to take another trip just to get some.
There are a couple of other farms open to the public on the Highway. Just further north is Steve Normanton’s farm, where they sell grass fed beef and pasture-raised chicken and pork, as well as organic eggs and produce. The farm store is open on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays til 1PM, so I was too late to go in. Further north still is McQuesten Farm – so busy when I swung by, there was no place to park! They sell their own grown flowers, as well as produce and have a petting zoo of farm animals.
Not many people realize that farmer’s markets exist in the winter, but they do. They are few and far-between, and some don’t operate every week, but you should be able to find a couple within a reasonable distance from your home, if your home is in southern New Hampshire. You can find a partial list of New Hampshire winter markets here. Remarkably, what’s missing from that list is the Salem, NH Farmer’s Market, an excellent market that is slightly off the beaten path and hosted at the Lake Street Garden Center. Tucked away within a residential neighborhood, Lake Street is a surprisingly large center that lends outdoor space to the market in the summer and generously lends greenhouse space to the market in winter.
A lot of hard work goes into making this market a success, including regular recipe features on WMUR television and social media activity. No cash? A few venders take credit cards, but you can also purchase tokens at the information desk with credit cards or SNAP cards. Sometimes there’s music. Sometimes there’s face painting. Sometimes there’s cooking demos.
Because it’s winter, you will find more meat than produce – and there was a good selection to be had this Sunday. I believe all the meat was sold frozen and this is the common way meat is sold at farmer’s markets.
Brookford Farm had an amazing display of milk and cheese products, including raw milk, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, quark, cheddar, brie, blue and feta. Market customers were exchanging empty glass bottles for new filled bottles of milk, keeping the vendor busy ducking out of the greenhouse to his refrigerated truck filled with goodies. They were the only vendor selling dairy, but equally as popular was their grass fed beef products and pasture raised pork and chicken, including maple bacon. Ground beef sold for $10.00 a pound and sausage sold for $12.00 a pound.
But that’s not all. They also had a small selection of root vegetables and bags of flour milled from their own wheat, grown GMO-free on their farm in Canterbury, NH — One of the very few growers of wheat in New England!
Hurd Farm, from Hampton, NH, raises grass-fed beef, all-natural, pasture-fed chicken and turkey and all-natural heritage breed pork. They were offering several cuts of beef, pork chops and sausage and whole turkeys and chickens. Italian sausage sold for $9.99 a pound and Ground Beef sold at $6.99 a pound. You can find Hurd Farm at several farmer’s markets in Rockingham County and also at the farm on Wednesdays and Fridays, where you will also find fresh eggs and maybe some laying hens for purchase!
Miner Family Farm, from Merrimack, NH, had the only offering of lamb at the market. They also sold cuts of beef, pork and chicken, plus chicken and duck eggs, along with their own branded selection of dried herbs and spices. Ground beef sold for $7.00 a pound and Italian sausage sold for $6.50 a pound.
If you want chicken, Vernon Family Farm has it in all forms – whole birds, butchered, sausage, stock & soup and even organ meat. Sausage sold for $10 a pound. Their Cornish-cross birds are pasture raised with additional organic grain feed on the farm in Newfields, NH. They also sell Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms!
The only vendor this past Sunday with an extensive collection of produce was Arrowhead Farm from Newburyport, MA. Besides cold storage staples like potatoes and onions, Arrowhead featured a variety of greens and herbs freshly grown in their solar greenhouses. Arrowhead also uses the Salem Farmer’s Market for some of its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pickups, and it has one of the larger selection of CSA options I have seen in the area, so that is worth checking out.
A wild blueberry distributor had a booth. Representing eight family farms in Maine, including Wild Wescogus Berries in Addison, Orcutt Farm in Steuben, and Dan-a-Dew Wild Blueberry Farm in Blue Hill, he was selling 17oz containers of individually quick frozen berries for $9.99. Wild blueberries are smaller than cultivated blueberries but contain twice the antioxidants. And they are delicious.
Finally, every farmer’s market that I visit have local vendors selling their own homemade small-batch foods, which may or may not be sourced from locally grown/raised products and this market is no exception. This past Sunday you could pick up organic breads, pancake mixes, mustards, jams and jellies from The Fresh Plate of Amherst. You need to act fast. There was only two loaves of bread left by the time I got there.
If you wanted lunch right there, you could grab some Puerto Rican from Kingston, NH’s El Camino or some Ukrainian from East Kingston’s Bucovina Cuisines. Or snack on some organic baked beans from West Hopkinton’s Breakwind Farm (that’s right).
The Salem, NH Farmer’s Market is open every Sunday from 10-2, all year long.