By Michelle Pittman and Michael Buck
Last weekend, we drove out to the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market to see what the food scene was like on the other side the Valley.
This market operates year-round on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and has been going strong since the earlier part of the century. It reminds us a lot of what we affectionately refer to as the “dirt mall” — Renningers Farmers Market and Auction in Schuylkill Haven, Pa. It’s got butchers, delis, produce stands, great lunch counters and a variety of booths and sellers that are just plain hard to categorize. In other words, something for everyone.
Make no mistake, though, there’s plenty of food to be had here. If the fresh-made pizza, french fries, ribs, meatball subs and homemade pies don’t tempt you, there’s also a lot of sampling to be done. Many vendors are all too happy to give you a taste of their products — they even encourage it.
While we really like the atmosphere of the market and the fact that you can customize any order you like, from steak cuts to handpicked veggies, we had to ask a lot of questions to find out where the food was coming from. It’s still relatively early in the growing season here and we saw a lot of produce that could have been grown locally, but it was actually shipped in from somewhere else. If you don’t mind chatting up the produce stand workers, there are good deals to be had. And we expect more local produce as the growing season continues. We managed to find some asparagus and turned it into a nice pasta and mushroom dish.
A handful of stands offer free-range, organic chickens — a personal favorite — but get there early. They sell out fast. And don’t miss the Amish stands, featuring the yellowest butter you’ve ever seen, and some Lancaster County classics, like sweet bologna, scrapple and a whole bunch of salads.