Andrea Iglar is a freelance writer, editor and musician based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She regularly writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and likes to read the newspaper’s food section every Thursday. She enjoys growing herbs and cooking meals based on what she finds at the local farmer’s market. She thinks 24-hour restaurants should offer their nighttime customers the same quality of food as their daytime patrons and does not appreciate being served “nite soup.”
Original Farmer's Night Market in South Fayette, Pennsylvania by Andrea Iglar
I went to opening day of my local farmer’s market with visions of plump tomatoes, big heads of cauliflower and crisp green beans, taken home and stewed with a can of chickpeas and spices for my first one-pot veggie medley of the season.
When I arrived at the pavilion housing the Original Farmers Night Market in South Fayette, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, I noticed the dozen or so vendors didn’t have much fresh produce. I suddenly realized May 7 was too early for harvest.
The first ingredients for my meal came from the friendly staff of The SpringHouse, a 35-year family business comprised of a 420-acre farm, bakery, creamery and eatery located in the community of Eighty-Four in Washington County.
Katrina Wilk was helping run the market booth, part of her job that also includes milking cows, baking breads and driving the tractor during the farm’s autumn pumpkin festival. She kindly pointed me toward a bin holding ice and various sizes of pasteurized, hormone-free milk.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said. “It was in the cow this morning.”
I surmised the milk would be thick and fresh, and my hunch was confirmed by a passerby who took it upon himself to say it would be the best milk I’d ever taste.
I chose a $1.50 half-pint of chocolate milk—made with whole milk, Katrina said, noting, “We don’t skimp.” White milk options included 2% and skim.
My eye was tempted by several bread loaves and a sheet of Ho-Ho cake (ho-homemade, no less) but settled upon a $2 round of twelve Italian dinner rolls. They came with a tip for the best way to heat them: Leave them in their brown paper bag and place them in a 350-degree oven for five minutes.
Next to the breads sat a half-dozen giant bowls of prepared cold salads. After a free taste, I opted for a $4.50 pint of cauliflower and broccoli salad with a light, sweet dressing. Katrina said they had purchased these vegetables, but in the summer they would bring their homegrown corn, tomatoes and broccoli to market.
Next, a sweet smell drew me to Keener’s Just Nuts, where Jeffrey Keener offered me a sample of his glazed pecans and almonds. “Like my mom says, ‘We’re not crazy. We’re just nuts.’ ”
Filling in for his mother Lynn, Jeffrey was roasting the nuts on site, using a German-made contraption that’s backordered for six months. I asked what’s in the glaze. He said it was cinnamon, vanilla and sugar. Cost was $3 per five-ounce package, or two for $5. I preferred the pecans, which Jeffrey handed to me in a cute, triangular package printed to resemble a red and white bandanna.
You may call me nuts for it, but I considered the pecans my dessert and passed over several other bakery tables selling cookies, cake, fudge and Eastern European fruit tarts. (I tried the latter last summer and plan to be a return customer.) I also skipped a couple booths of flowers and herbs, but made a mental note of the healthy-looking, two-dollar basil, sage, parsley and rosemary plants in case an unexpected frost were to wipe out my early-planted herb garden.
At last, I discovered a table selling some fresh veggies. Two women from Volker’s Farm, in the Monongahela River valley, were selling tomatoes and cucumbers—both technically fruits—grown in a friend’s hothouse. (The farm had lost two greenhouses over the winter, when heavy snow caused the roofs to collapse.)
“Burpa cucumber,” one woman said, pointing to a foot-long, aromatic, heavily ribbed specimen.
“Burpa? With a ‘p’?” I asked.
Yes, she said, but not to worry: “You can’t taste them all night.”
For $1.50 and the promise of another dinner ingredient, I took it, along with five medium stem tomatoes for $3.75.
Having spent $17.75 of my $20 budget, and noticing the 80-degree temperature was showing no sign of cooling as 7 p.m. approached, I took leave and headed home, feeling relieved I wouldn’t have to slave over a hot pot of veggies after all.
As I drove, I plotted the cleverest possible way to use my farmer’s market finds. Dinner-for-two would be on the table in no time.
Tomato and cucumber sandwiches, sprinkled with salt and pepper, on hot dinner rolls; cold broccoli and cauliflower salad; chocolate milk; glazed pecans for dessert.