If you live within a hundred mile radius of Ithaca, I urge you to include the Farmer’s Market on your to-do list before fall gets its claws in us. I can’t believe it’s been so close to me all this time and I’ve never been! I knew it would be good, Ithaca being what Ithaca is – a crunchy granola, aging hippie and highly educated enclave of artists, famers, educators and small business people. Located off Rt 13 at Steamboat Landing in the summer, the market pavilion has about 150 stalls of foodie wonders. The craziness starts in the labyrinthian parking lot, in which you should consider bribing some hipster mom with a decaf skinny latte if you want a spot around lunchtime on Saturday. Once you’ve secured a spot to stash your gas-guzzler, meander around to one of the entrance points to the large pavilion and let this site greet you:
You should be getting excited at this point
In addition to fruit, veggie, and gorgeous flower stalls, the IFM will tempt you with Cambodian, Indian and Asian foods, a creperie (have you had crepes? If not, do it), bakery stalls, coffee stalls, wineries, crafts and artists, and more. The line at the Cambodian food stall was particularly long, so it must be good:
I’ve never even had Cambodian food, but I’m sure Bourdain would approve
I was there to procure cucumbers, locally-raised pasture-fed meat and some fruit for the coming week, and I wasn’t disappointed. The apples I got are gorgeous little beauties, tart but not puckery, crisp and pale…from a Japanese variety of apple tree some industrious little farm in the Finger Lakes has the tenacity to grow. The energy from the vendors is infectious. At Autumn’s Harvest Farm’s stall, I was enticed to buy two pounds of ground beef from an enthusiastic fellow customer who raved, “This is the best meat I’ve ever had.” In the end, I bought some delicious-looking Canadian bacon there, too. I haven’t tried the bacon yet, but I cooked one of the packages of pasture-raised, chemical-free, steroid- free beef into spaghetti sauce Sunday night, and the texture and flavor were indeed, exceptional. I like knowing that those animals lived a good life nearby, in Romulus, NY, and that people who care about doing it right are processing those animals into nutritious meats. The woman running this stall was equally as enthusiastic as her customer, and if she brings the same zest to her farm as she does to her market, you know her products are top notch.
A stunning array of greens: I spy kale, chard, romaine and beans
Another passionate stall I found, but unfortunately did not get the name of, was the one at which I bought some terrific cucumbers. I was just going to get some regular old hothouse cukes, but the nice stand manner recommended I get two regulars and one little, round, peculiar, lemon cucumber, which is much paler than its green cousins. I’m going to use the lemon bugger in some gazpacho for lunches later this week, but I sampled one of the green cukes last night, and it was firm, crisp and clean-tasting, with none of the bitterness that sometimes lives in the seeds or skin. Yum.
The lakefront picnicking area outside the market pavilion – where you chow down on your strawberry crepe or vegetarian sushi
Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to all the artisans who occupy stalls at the market. Unlike craft fairs or festivals I’ve been to with stall after stall of crappy tie-died dresses and ugly, cheap jewelry, there are quality, hand-printed clothing stalls, vendors with some pretty breathtaking artwork, and gorgeous woodwork and pottery at the IFM. I would have loved to buy three of the gallery photo prints of gorgeous, high-color food from one lady, but I just don’t have room on the walls of my kitchen. Instead, I secured an adorable, hand-decorated onesie for my yet-to-be-born nephew, and vowed to return for future arts procurement.
Not made by a local artisan, but grown by one
Of course, because I was hitting Ithaca around lunch time, and not knowing the market would have all these glorious food stalls, I stopped by The Piggery for lunch before heading across 13. They’ve just expanded their empire to include a dining area, and I had to check it out.
Heeere Piggy, Piggy…
Is it a coincidence that I like to make a pig of myself at The Piggery? Probably not. But at least I’m not alone – this joint is jumpin’, and in vegetarian-predominant Ithaca, that’s saying something. I chose the Three Little Pigs, a diabolical trifecta of pork, along with a cherry charger to drink. The charger is a winner: New York State cherry juice with local maple syrup and Saratoga sparkling water. It was tart, dry, and refreshing. The Force was strong in the hot dog contingent of the 3LP. The delicious all-white pork dog had a good snap and a subtle spice, and I liked the crunchy, house-made pickles on top. I didn’t love that they gave me ketchup when I asked for mustard (my receipt said mustard, so I know I didn’t order wrong), nor the fact that the dog wasn’t hot enough, nor was the bun toasted or steamed. I think the whole works would have been yummier had they been hotter. Phase two, the carnitas taco, won the day. A delicate corn tortilla housed well-seasoned pulled pork that was juicy and exploding with flavor, as well as a kick-ass crema, lots of shredded carrot and some tiny little micro-greens on top. Again, it could have been served hotter, but the lukewarm temperature couldn’t ruin the great flavor and texture of this taco.
Three Little Pigs
I cannot speak so highly of the third member of the Little Pigs, the pulled pork sandwich. Let me preface this by saying, I LOVE pulled pork sandwiches. I make pulled pork at home, I eat it out frequently, I believe it is one of the most perfect foods. This, I did not like, to the point where I only managed two bites, and almost spit the second out. I don’t know what they’re using as seasoning in this iteration of The Piggery’s awesome swine, but I don’t like it. I know others must, so maybe it’s curry powder or artificial smoke, but whatever it is, I abhorred it to a great extent. And it made me sad…I hated to leave it all alone on the plate, uneaten. It was like I was denying it its destiny. My apologies, pork. I never meant to hurt you.
By the way, you are probably asking yourself what this little field trip to Ithaca cost. I know there’s a fierce national debate on organic, local foodstuffs and their relative price. Well yeah, it wasn’t cheap. Lunch, an entrée (albeit a large one) and a drink, was $13. The ground beef was $4.50/lb. That onesie was $17 (oh, but it’s so cute!). But the cukes were about $3, and the half peck of apples I picked up ran me about $4. There are many bargains to be found at our area farmers markets, and even if you do end up buying some things at a slightly higher rate than you would pay at my beloved Wegmans or your beloved Wal-Mart, you’re also supporting local agriculture and our local economy, not to mention the reduced environmental impact of food that doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get to your table. We’ll set aside the fact that I happen to have driven 35 miles to get this food for now, OK? It’s not a perfect system, nor am I a perfect ambassador of it. What I know for sure is that these meats, vegetables and fruits are grown for us in very different, ultimately more humane, and ultimately more sound circumstances than most of what we buy at the national chains. And while it’s not practical to eliminate our use of factory-farmed products, things like bringing your own bags to the store, supplementing your summer produce with locally-grown products, participating in the Meatless Mondays trend, or having your own garden are all small ways that you can be kind to the place we all live. OK, lecture over, soapbox abandoned, fun Shelby is back. EAT PORK! My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!