To Market, to Market: Lorton, With a Dale City Stop
Does a beautifully arrayed farmers market make its fruit and vegetables taste better the way, say, a Tuscan sunset improves the charms of that bottle of plonk you enjoyed on your Italian vacation?
The question came to mind as I strolled the stands at the Lorton market yesterday morning. This is its first season, and from a consumer’s perspective, it’s got a lock on the title of Most Photogenic. More than a dozen tented stands are set up in the Virginia Railway Express parking lot behind a retail area on Lorton Station Road (so there’s plenty of parking); on a quiet Sunday morning it takes more than a 35-minute drive from Georgetown. Its products must come from within a 125-mile radius of Fairfax County.
The producers engage in some savvy staging: Bushels of squash and peppers are turned on their sides and spill forth cornucopia-style, sometimes on top of cloth-covered tables. Fruits are color-coordinated, presented with plenty of space and samples for tasting. White spatulas serve as price markers, stuck upright among pints of beans and potatoes. Even the flowers and perennials are grouped by hues.
Some prices are lower than those I’ve seen in downtown and Bethesda farmers markets, such as herb bunches, greens and all kinds of peppers. (Maybe not low enough to offset the cost of round-trip gas, but you might be pleasantly surprised to find regular at 40 cents per gallon lower than in Washington, so fill ‘er up if you make the trip.)
Yesterday these things caught my eye: Garner’s Produce of Montross, Va., had fresh-looking okra for $3.50 a box; Mount Olympus Berry Farm of Carmel Church, Va. (a pick-your-own place), had pristine cippolini onions for $4.50 a pound; Kuhn Orchards from Orrtanna, Pa., offered beautiful sour and sweet cherries ($5 per quart), plus a smart idea I haven’t seen elsewhere this season: snack cups of mixed berries for $1 (Kuhn is also at 14th and U streets and in Vienna markets on Saturdays); Laurel Grove Farms of Oak Grove, Va. (804-224-7287), had some wonderfully fragrant dill flowers ($2 a bunch) and huge, solid heads of cabbage for 49 cents a pound.
After tasting several of Smita Nordwall’s Crackpot Gourmet preserves and sauces, I had to bring back a small jar of her Baja Margarita jam, with tequila and lime ($4.75). The Swiss Bakery and Pastry Shop of Burke had covered Lucite boxes of pastries and racks of specialty breads such as dark and chewy wurzelbrot ($4.75 per loaf), and PattyBakes of Clifton (703-598-2676) sold me some fall-apart-tender pecan sour-cream coffee cake muffins ($1.80 each).
I didn’t find the fava beans I was searching for, so I GPS’ed my way a little further – less than 10 miles – to the larger Dale City farmers market, set in a parking lot near the Center Plaza Shopping Center. The peppers were in full force, and some cost less than the ones in Lorton. Prices at Dale City, again, were on average lower, with some greater variety among the produce, such as bitter melon for $2 a pound.
My big score of the day was the season’s early peaches – yellow and white varieties – already sweet and smelling fabulous ($1.89 per pound). No favas there, either, but I was told they’re on the way.
-- Bonnie Benwick
The Food Section
June 29, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: To Market, To Market | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, farmers markets
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