DELMARVA ALMANAC

Spring At The Rehoboth Farmer’s Market

by Gretchen Hanson

The Farmers Market comes far too early. Each year I think that I will step into a veritable Disneyland of fiddlehead ferns, baby asparagus, English peas, micro greens and baby Mizuna.

Each year I think this is the perfect year for strawberries as I dream of opening day. That morning I make dozens of sandwiches and wraps, batches of salads and soups, tamales, quesadillas and salsas of every chile in the larder for my booth at the first market.

I laden coolers until my team members, Patrick and Josh, groan with the effort of lifting them and assuredly curse me under their collective breath as they load the hippie van to make the three block journey. The tents are white and stark against the newly leafing trees and break the solidity of the brown landscape that is Grove Park Rehoboth in the first bleak weeks of Spring. Small clusters of crocus and daffodils dot the playground. Spring is coming, they whisper, almost here, they promise.

The farmers are the first to arrive right behind the volunteers. Most are not on facebook and there is the catching up to do before unloading. Which kids are graduating, who is pregnant, what happened during the brutal off season. Each winter is compared to any of the ten that preceded it by how much in debt you are in at the end of it. Good and bad; we refamiliarize ourselves with each other but almost without skipping a beat.

A couple of spaces still lie absent. Brenda, our coffee roaster has fallen to breast cancer after a long battle and we hover over the space waiting to see who will fill the spot. She was my first friend in this town and my Rehoboth Girlfriend sandwich with arugula, eggplant, olive tapenade and pepperjack on toasted ciabatta is in homage to her.

The tables quickly assemble, pots heat to bubbling and smells begin to swirl through the market on soft little kitten feet. I have made a Cannellini, Kale and exotic Mushroom Ragout as well as a Shallot Confit Quesadilla with Fig Jam and will be demonstrating confit techniques as well as steam frying with hearty winter greens.

I generally make the dish as simple as possible and use a technique driven teaching style so that buyers can duplicate it easily at home. My favorite part of the market is the fifteen minutes before the bell rings, declaring the market's official opening, when I do the restaurant shopping. No money exchanges hands but I can check out all the produce and reserve, negotiate and preorder.

The first market is so disappointing for produce. I am careful not to take too much so there is plenty to sell and I pay the full retail value so farmers are not hurt by selling to me. There is literally only asparagus and strawberries and scallions and some leafy greens. It's like water to a man on the desert but what I really want is not just water but …I halt my reverie of what I don't have and focus on what I do.

There are a few baby bunches of radishes and carrots and tiny little nosegays of watercress, they are so pretty I want to take a picture or just kiss them but I tell the herb guy to let them go to retail buyers. There are too few to put on the menu. Another spot has tiny bunches of fiddlehead ferns; carnal and prehistoric; I stroke their soft tendrils and reserve three little clumps to take home to my children. Fiddleheads were my first experience with foraging when I was my baby's age. I will show them to her tonight and tomorrow we will tramp in the woodland looking for them. For now I must focus on the task at hand and look for produce for the restaurant.

Tuckey has brought me a horded case of the last fall apples and the very end of the winter squash larder. I have been getting organic eggs and exotic mushrooms all winter and the visits are just to say hello, pick up the cases and order for next week.

The hydroponic bunches of arugula are also delivered and just enough to last for the week but that doesn't stop me from tearing into a couple of heads, and wrapping them into the warm baguette from Old World Bread and drizzling it with Olive Orchard olive oil before the market even begins. I run back and grab a baby bunch of radishes from the CSA and put the tiny salted slivers in with the arugula. The flavor makes me swoon and moan a little. Spring, it definitely tastes like Spring.

The bell is minutes from ringing and I head back to my table to begin greeting the first shoppers. I demo and answer questions. Teaching people is what feeds me to continue to do the business of the nightly line at the restaurant.

Throughout the day I say the mission of the restaurant so many times it is like a mantra... a safe place for everyone to eat at the same table…vegan gluten free and vegetarian friendly…grass fed free range meats…wild seafood…everyone can eat safely and happily at the same table ...as local as possible in season...

It is the 'why' question that catches me off guard. Why? Because I can't imagine doing it any other way. Because even now the sight of a farm truck pulling up in front of the restaurant makes me teary eyed. Because even six years later a vegan or gluten free person's gratitude at being able to eat safely in my restaurant fills me with humbling joy. Because the mission is no longer mine it is part of a larger consciousness that makes the world a better place to live in.

References:


The Farmers Market in Rehoboth has been named the Best Little Market in America. It is held on Tuesdays from 12-4 at Grove Park in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. You can find out more at: rbfarmersmarket.com

Get links to locally produced food sources on our Living Coastal page: delmarva-almanac.com/living

Find out more about Gretchen Hanson and Hobos Restaurant & Bar at: myhobos.com