Halfway between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, I approach a field next to rolling pastures populated with black and white Belted Galloway cows and their donkey companions. This bucolic setting is Fearrington Village, home of the Fearrington Farmers Market.
In 1974, the Fitch family purchased a farm here and decided to build a community modeled after the small English villages they’d admired on their travels. They named it Fearrington after a former owner of the farm.
Today, this quiet settlement has two thousand residents, with homes and businesses nestled together amid green spaces; the one on the corner of East Camden and Madison is where the Fearrington Farmers Market is held every Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m., from April to November (the market’s season finale is November 22).
This summer, I’ve been on a quest to avoid rising early but still buy farmers market produce by shopping Triangle markets who operate in the afternoons. At each market, my goal has been to purchase unfamiliar produce, learn about it, and cook with it.
At Fearrington, I make an initial reconnaissance and find various greens, okra, shiitake mushrooms, and peppers. Sadly, I conclude that at this market, on this day, there’s no unknown produce. But, there are several stalls with new-to-me locally produced food products.
I stop at Poverty Hollow stand, where I meet Joan Thompson and her daughter Ellen. They have scores of preserves, as well as pickles made from a variety of produce. I purchase a jar of cherry-rhubarb jam. It’s delicious, bright and vivid, with enough pucker to temper the sweetness. Perfect for holiday thumbprint cookies.
Then I meet Nathan Simons. His Durham-based company, Simons Says Spread This, makes flavored nut butters. They’re made by grinding nuts between stones in a mélanger for up to ten hours, which produces an uber-silky consistency.
Along with flavors such as cashew coconut, vanilla malt macadamia, and cinnamon pecan, Simons makes an orange hazelnut butter. Normally, I’m skeptical of orange-flavored food; often it tastes cloying and artificial. And I haven’t enjoyed hazelnuts since an unfortunate incident in the early nineties concerning the hazelnut liqueur Frangelico.
But this butter changed my mind. It’s strikes a perfect flavor balance between deeply roasted hazelnuts and orange oil. Simons uses it as a sweet dip, ice cream topper, and as a substitute in recipes calling for peanut butter, speculoos, or Nutella. I buy a jar and the next morning, I try swirling it into my bowl of oatmeal. It adds just enough sweetness and a deep nutty, caramelized flavor. And, it makes me think of the holidays; I can think of at least four Christmas stockings in which this butter needs to make an appearance, including mine.
A few additional market takeaways:
- Laurie Bakay and her husband own Crystal Glen Alpacas in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Laurie collects wool from her beloved herd and spins it into yarn, and each skein is labeled with the alpacas from which it came.
- Bonlee Grown Farm belongs to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farmers), which matches farms with temporary workers who are keen to participate in farm life for room, board, and experience.
- The market is held at the Village’s preferred dog walking spot, so there are friendly, well-mannered pooches by the score.