Saturday, 13 October 2007

A Visit to St. Jacobs' Farmers' Market

I've been contemplating a visit to St. Jacobs' Farmers' Market for a while. It's THE big market in this area, probably THE big market in Ontario. I used to live quite close to it, and went regularly. Now I am further away and other, smaller, markets are often more appealing to me. I have mixed feelings about St. Jacobs.

On the one hand, being so big, it has pretty much everything. If you are looking for something specific and a little esoteric, St. Jacobs' Market is a good place to start looking. On the other hand, in addition to the farmers and food products, it has an awful lot of crap, and the mobs of shoppers can be just awful. The good news is the crap is fairly segregated from the food, so you can ignore it fairly easily. I would say that in general the prices are quite reasonable. It is a big tourist draw, but with so many vendors, the competition stays fairly fierce.

With St. Jacobs' generally being such a zoo, I chose today to go because it is after Thanksgiving. I hoped by going late in the season and early in the day, the crowds would not be overwhelming. Fortunately, that was the case. We got there at around 8:30 am, and the crowds were still fairly sparse. I really wouldn't want to arrive any later though.

We parked, and walked towards the main building.

We walked down the back of the building, which is one of the catchment areas for the crap.

Around the other side, there is a picnic area and a stretch of covered stalls for Mennonite vendors.

Kitty-corner, another stretch of mini-shops, with assorted crap. Actually, I should stop being quite so rude. Not all the non-food items are crap, just most of them. Over 80%, I would say, but I am a grumpy old fart, which must be borne in mind.

There were two broad outdoor alleys of stalls, which were devoted to assorted crap.

And one which was devoted to food, mainly fruits and veggies, with some plants and cut flowers. Everyone is looking well bundled-up. It was a brisk, not to say chilly, morning. Here I am looking down the alley towards the large parking area.

And, having walked down to the end of the alley by the parking area, I turned around and took a picture back up the alley towards the main building.

A gorgeous array of brassicas; white, yellow and purple cauliflowers and green broccoli.

There were lots of apple vendors with a very large selection of varieties. Mostly the current, standard commercial varieties, but a sprinkling of older and heirloom varieties as well. No Gravenstein, though!

Indoors, it was much more packed. I think everybody decided to shop indoors first, and hit the outside once it warmed up a little. Also, this is where pretty much all the meat and cheese are.

There was very little baking at the market which was interesting to me even when I (thought I) could eat wheat, and it hasn't changed. White flour and white sugar, and too much of it, for the most part.

There were several places with preserves. I always find farmers markets the best place to buy horseradish; they seem to be the only places that have brands of (or home-produced) horseradish that isn't full of preservatives and other extraneous matter.

Upstairs, there is a gallery that has small shops selling a better class of crap than the downstairs and outside stalls. Okay, okay, again I shouldn't be so rude. Some of the crafts up here are not bad, although I don't think any of them are particularly exciting.

Looking down to the market area below.

And down to the food court, full of cooking smoke and good smells.

If you go out through the food court, and through a little pic-nic area, there is another building dedicated to new but flea-marketish type stuff. There! I did it! I didn't say crap.

Actually, the quality of stuff here varies. Again, most of it is very dull, cheap imported stuff, but there is the odd flash of interest.

Back outside again, we paused to admire a selection of squashes.

A good selection of mushrooms, including puffballs!

This was a nice, well rounded vegetable selection which included Brussels sprouts onna stick! If you can find them this way, it's worth getting them - they keep better. In fact, if you have the space and cool - as cold as you can get it, without freezing - basement or garage spot, they can be stuck (the ends) in a bucket of damp sand and keep for up to a month, although of course you should keep an eye on them.

An apple vendor huddles up to stay warm.

More preserves, and the justly famous Mennonite summer sausage.

The exterior pic-nic area by the main building food court. Just beyond is the flea-market building.

Some maple products that arrived at the market in the back of a Mennonite buggy.

Apples and apple products.

This looked interesting; I just bought a 7-pound tub of honey so I didn't buy any, but the vendor said it does have a faint blueberry flavour.

By this time, it was nearly 10:00 am and the crowds were beginning to thicken up. We were ready to head out.

You can take the same horse-drawn tour that you can take across the street at the Waterloo Market.

The St. Jacobs market is big enough that people come on bus tours.

There's a whole bunch of so-called factory outlets next to the market, hoping to soak up some of the tourist dollars. As far as I can see, none of the products sold are made in local factories. Most of 'em aren't even made on this continent.

And so home with the goodies. I restrained myself most ferociously (yes, really) because we still have a fair bit of stuff in the fridge from last week. So, from the bottom, clockwise; garlic, red and Spanish onions, fresh shiitake mushrooms, mutsu apples, russet apples, quinces (yes, really!), vast amounts of leeks (3 bunches - 9 big fatties - for $5!), radishes, basil, celery, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I've been looking for quinces for years; this was the first time I've seen them. I'm told that if you want them, you had better get there early.

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