The Saturday Durham Farmers Market is a well-known local institution; it’s been held every Saturday at Durham Central Park since 1998 and boasts more than seventy vendors (each of whom must come from no further than seventy miles away) selling produce, meats, and hand-crafted products, including jams and jellies, baked goods, and hand-milled soaps.
But from April to October, Durhamites have a second chance to visit and shop. The Wednesday Market, held every Wednesday afternoon from three to six, is perfect for folks who want food for dinner so fresh it’s still warm from the field, and for those who are averse to the Saturday market throngs (or the necessary early wake-up call to avoid the crush).
It’s also a prime opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with the farmers. In addition to making my usual rounds, my mission for the inaugural Wednesday market on April 18 was to discover a new piece of produce, then chat with the farmer to demystify the unknown and find out how to prepare it by polling the farmer, chefs, and customers.
When I spied chef Kevin Goller of Pompieri Pizza zeroing in on a bunch of tiny turnips from Wild Scallion Farm’s booth, I knew I had to learn more. These turnips, I learned from farmer-owner Matt Clayton, are called Hakurei turnips, a Japanese variety that favors cooler weather and makes market appearances in both spring and fall. They’re one of the few turnips that can be eaten raw, so they’re also known as salad turnips. When he harvests these turnips, Clayton looks for ones that are about the size of walnuts; if they get too large, they become mealy and lose their sweetness.
Even so, Clayton advises that customers taste the turnips before deciding on a preparation. Younger, smaller, and typically sweeter turnips lend themselves to raw or quick-cooking preparations. If the turnips taste bitter, Clayton favors a roasted approach; he tosses the turnips with olive oil and seasoning, then roasts them for twenty minutes at 350 degrees. Sometimes Clayton makes roasted turnip soup with them.
Goller shared that the turnips were destined for
vegan pie of the day (along with asparagus), to be sliced paper-thin on a mandolin and added last minute to retain their snappy sweetness. If the turnips were less sweet than usual, he’d quick-pickle them before topping the pies. Customer Betty Thomas was looking forward to sautéing seasoned slices in olive oil, and Doug (who preferred to be mentioned by
name only) likes slicing them raw for salads or snacking.
A few additional takeaways from the inaugural Wednesday Market:
- Next Wednesday (April 25), Clayton (of Wild Scallion Farm) hopes that his sugar snap peas will be ready to harvest and sell.
- There are gorgeous tomatoes on sale to make your first tomato sandwich of the year.
- Fickle Creek Farm is back with its mind-blowing homemade hot dogs.
- Loaf has beautiful baked goods including canelés, diminutive pastries from the Bordeaux region of France that are deeply caramelized and eat like a cake-custard mashup.
- In addition to beautiful baguettes and doughnut muffins, Scratch is selling refreshing glasses of seasonally inspired strawberry rhubarb lemonade.