The start of market season is for me a time of great rejoicing. After a long winter of renegade markets and cobbling together food purchases from ethnic markets and larger grocers, spring cannot come too soon. With markets open almost every day of the week, shopping is a pleasure and adventure. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, art, and crafts, vendors also sell a bounty of prepared foods that make creating meals a breeze during the busy work week.
A good place to start is at the South of the James Market with breakfast from Pizza Tonight. With a custom mobile wood-fired oven, it produces made-to-order pizzas. Breakfast pizzas ($8) combine egg, cheese and bacon or sausage, and a pig and fig ($8) is a glorious combination of fig preserves, prosciutto and blue cheese. You can also buy a pizza kit to recreate these delicious pies at home. The traditional kit ($10) contains marinara sauce, a spice blend, two pieces of artisan dough and a 24-hour proofing process. Add $5 for a container of local della nonna sausage from Sausage Craft to top your pizza.
When walk-in business slowed several years ago, Cavanna Pasta started bringing pastas and prepared foods to markets. Lasagna ($20) is dense with rich layers of tender pasta, ground beef, tomato sauce, spinach and cheese. Pesto and gorgonzola gnocchi ($6) with creamy vodka sauce ($4) makes an easy dinner, one of a combination of 16 pastas and nine sauces available to take home.
What goes better with pasta than bread? Norwood Cottage Bakery makes 25 varieties of breads and other goods. The Bellevue baguette ($5.85), a nod to the baker’s neighborhood, is hearty yet light. Bacon brownies ($1.49) are sweet and salty, rich and chewy, and tend to sell out quickly.
Rockahock Farms in Lanexa offer jams and jellies, chutneys and mustards in addition to seasonal baked goods. A lemon-chess cheesecake ($20) has a graham cracker crust topped with a traditional lemon-chess pie filling and a decadent layer of lemon cheesecake.
Another new vendor at the market is Mother Bars. The hiker’s Mother Bar ($3) is a chewy combination of oats, organic cane sugar, flax seed, peanut butter, apricots, cranberries, walnuts, sunflower seeds and white chocolate chips. It makes an excellent snack for a trip around the park.
Another option on Saturday mornings is St. Stephen’s Farmers’ Market. Big Daddy’s BBQ may be better known for its beef and pork ribs, but it’s the chicken salad that lures me back. At $11 a pound, it’s a bit on the pricey side but a real treat. Chicken breasts are cooked over an apple-wood fire, which imparts a sweet, smoky flavor.
Reginald’s Homemade celebrates one of Virginia’s most important crops, the peanut. Making butter from Virginia nuts and a bit of peanut oil, Reginald’s elevates the quality and healthiness of a cupboard staple. Ranging from $5-$7 for a 9-ounce jar, some varieties add honey, bananas or chocolate.
The holy grail of sorbet is produced at Landovel Farm in Fork Union, and is flash frozen to produce a smooth and surprisingly creamy texture. The raspberry and lime version ($6.50 per pint) combines fruity sweetness with tart citrus for a refreshing finish.
Nana’s Homemades features itinerant cook Jim McCarty interpreting his grandmother’s traditional handcrafted jams, jellies, pickles and relishes, all made with Virginia products. Sweet red-onion marmalade ($5.50) over cream cheese makes a quick and easy appetizer for an impromptu summer party, making it a must for the pantry.
With many new vendors and products to sample, there’s never been a better time to fill up at Richmond’s farmers’ markets. And there are plenty of choices all over town.
17th Street Farmers’ Market
Shockoe Bottom, 100 N. 17th St.
Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (May 7-Dec. 3)
Thursdays 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. (May 12-Oct. 20)
Local produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, prepared foods, crafts, art and jewelry.
Ashland Farmers’ Market
Downtown Ashland, Duncan Street behind Town Hall (101 Thompson St.)
Saturdays 9 a.m.-Noon (May 1-Oct. 3)
Hanover-grown produce, fresh cut flowers, honey and soaps.
Brandermill Green Market
Market Square Shopping Center (Hull Street and Old Hundred Road)
Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (April 2-October)
Twenty-plus vendors offering local produce, meat, dairy and prepared goods. Live music and animals to pet.
Byrd House Market
Oregon Hill, 224 S. Cherry St.
Tuesdays 3:30-7 p.m. (May-October)
Produce, plants, cut flowers, meat, dairy, baked goods, art, jewelry, and prepared foods.
Chester Farmers’ Market
Chester Village Green, Centre Street and 11844 Village Green Drive
Saturdays 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (May 7-October)
Local produce, dairy, meat and specialty goods.
Chesterfield Farmers’ Market
Chesterfield Towne Center, Huguenot Road entrance
Fridays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (April 1-Dec. 2)
Produce, meat, dairy, bread, crafts, and jewelry.
Huguenot-Robious Farmers’ Market
Bon Air, the Great Big Greenhouse, 2051 Huguenot Road
Thursdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (April 7-Oct. 27)
Local produce and crafts.
Lakeside Farmers’ Market
Northside, 6110 Lakeside Ave.
Wednesdays 8 a.m.-noon and 3-7 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon (April 2-Dec. 24)
Local produce, meat, baked goods, dairy, honey, cheese and crafts.
The Farmers’ Market at St. Stephen’s
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 6000 Grove Ave.
Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon (May 7-Oct. 29)
Produce, meat, dairy, wine, honey, soaps, plants, herbs and prepared foods.
Monument Avenue and North Robinson Street
Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon (May-October)
Organic vegetables, cheese, plants, flowers and baked goods.
My Manakin Market
Bank of Essex, 68 Broad Street Road in Manakin-Sabot
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon (May 7-Oct. 29)
Produce, meat, dairy, flowers and crafts.
South of the James Market
Forest Hill Park at 42nd Street and Forest Hill Avenue
Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon
Produce, plants, flowers, meat, dairy, honey, jewelry, crafts, soaps, baked goods and prepared foods.
The Souther of the James Market
4910 Forest Hill Ave.
Wednesdays 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (April 6-Oct. 26)
More than 25 vendors offering produce, meat and wine.
West End Farmers’ Market
12450 Gayton Road
Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon and Wednesdays 3-6:30 p.m. (April 30-Nov. 7)
Virginia produce, herbs, flowers, baked goods, meat, seafood, dairy and eggs.