's Sites We Love Saveur Magazine has listed The Skinny Gourmet among its "Sites We Love"

I've been having a great time checking out Nashville's high end dining on the cheap thanks to Groupon. Have you tried it yet? Its awesome. I don't know why I ever hesitated.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sights and Tastes of the Nashville Farmer's Market

The Nashville Farmer's Market is a stubborn beast to characterize. I first came to know it only from afar as three enticingly large buildings called the "farmer's market" and open 365 days a year. Somehow my brain convinced me that it was reasonable to think lush, local produce could cover three football fields and that farmers somehow found alternates to sell their produce all the time. This was, as you may be able to tell already, not a terribly well thought out foodie dream.

So I was surprised the first time I visited the farmers market. One building is devoted to the sale of non food items like incense, tshirts, socks and other manufactured goods sold by vendors at inexpensive prices. The center building was a large food court with vaulted glass ceiling that let the sunlight stream down on stores selling hot coffee to early morning browsers, along with a collection of indian food, burgers, BBQ, and "Chicago" style gyros (which as a recently moved Chicagoan were a bit mystifying to me...I didn't know we Chicagoans had a style of gyros).

The back shed was where all the fresh produce was sold. But I rapidly figured out that some of the stalls were operated by local farmers who brought fresh seasonal local produce grown more or less within an hour's drive, but some of the other stalls were operated by what I think of as green grocers: people who buy produce from wholesale produce markets or exchanges and resell it locally. They carry celery root from Canada and kale from mexico along with bananas and other things that are not typically grown in middle Tennessee. And the local farmers aren't really very well marked, so everyone sort of blends together if you are a newbie.

At first this really threw me for a loop. But don't let any Nashvillians catch you saying anything disparaging about their market. And I've come to see their perspective. The farmer's market takes food stamps to all of Nashville's citizens can have good access to fresh produce. And it allows smaller produce retailers to compete with large grocery chains.

I've only been here for less than a year, but already the downtown farmer's market has become a weekly pilgrimage for our family, a tradition I really look forward to. I've enjoyed seeing the new diversity in the market this spring season, with several local artisans opening stalls to sell handmade soaps, bakeries selling bread along specialty bakeries that sell beautifully decorated cupcakes, and my favorite new purveyor of cookies (Dozen). There are several local cheese makers as well as a variety of ranchers selling beef and pork. There is an Amish farming family that sell a huge variety of baked goods, but I'd like to personally recommend the angel food cake. Angel food cake not made from a mix is a treat, and the half cake rarely survives through monday in our house.

But what I like best (after the food) are the sights of the market, from the beautiful piles of produce to the peoplewatching...

Nashville's downtown farmer's market is a point of pride for the city. In the farmers' shed, the proprietor and namesake of Noble Dairy selling his delicious goat cheeses

Noble farms was one of our first local discoveries after moving to Nashville last year. We found an affable, surprisingly young goat farmer proudly displaying photos of his small herd of local goats. We tried the chevre and quickly became regular customers. By far my favorite offering is their feta when they make the slightly wetter style and sell it in the tubs. They don't always make it that way (the drier style feta is more common), but the wetter one is among the best feta I've ever tried. They make a wide variety of flavored chevre as well. I wasn't particularly enamored of their popular cherry version, but the new honey apricot one is quite nice on water crackers on the back porch with some wine or sweet tea at the end of a long day.

A newcomer to the market this year, Dozen, a delicious sweets bakery.

One of my favorite new additions to the market this year is a sweet little bakery table for "Dozen: A Nashville Bakery." They caught my attention by offering a very generous tasting sample of an exceedingly delicious oatmeal cranberry cookie. From there we've branched out to become quite addicted. We always pick up at least two of these cookies as a weekly treat, but more often it is a half dozen. My husband favors the walnut chocolate chip ones. I'll conceed they are delightful, but my heart belongs to the rich, dark slow stroll through chocolate heaven that is the double chocolate cookie. It has a taste not unlike a flourless chocolate torte, but with a more crumbly texture that is part cookie, part brownie.

Grabbing for potatoes

Local farms start the season slowly with greens, cabbage and curing sausage

Greens... my crash course in southern cooking

"Greens" were a broad and vague category in my pre-Nashville life, in sort of the same way that I know that the Japanese recognize several different kinds of seaweed but to me it all seems distant and similar. I've had spinach, but growing up it always started frozen and ended up, well, not that appetizing. Living down south, where "greens" get their own name (collards, beet greens, turnip greens, kale to name a few) and parade proudly down the farmer's market stalls, has taught me a whole new love of this class of veg. Lately I find myself munching on leftover sauteed greens when I need a mid-afternoon snack. My husband works magic with any variety of greens by quick sauteeing them with olive oil, minced garlic, a squirt of lemon and a dash of cayenne pepper.

When we removed the baby from the stroller, it tipped over and our glass milk from the dairy broke. Spilt milk with some coffee. No crying over it (of course). But it was strangely beautiful.


Gourmet on a Budget said...

I'm trying to write a similar blog. If you're interested, check out my blog:

Charles said...

I really like your blog....
We have so many farmer's markets in PA, it's hard to choose where to shop!
Please check out my blog if you have the time:

Chef Chuck

LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs