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Chef Steve Poses: A Trip Through the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market

The Rittenhouse Farmers' Market in Autumn (photo by M. McClellan)

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by local restaurateur and caterer Steve Poses. This is one in a series of features he’s running on area farmers’ markets. To read the full text on his blog, click here.

Rittenhouse Square has a rhythm of the seasons and the days. This is the backdrop to Saturday’s Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market which both borrows from, and adds to the energy of the square. There is an abbreviated market on Tuesdays with shorter hours. The Farmers’ Market both benefits from and contributes to that rhythm and the success of the square.

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market is sponsored and managed by Farm to City, one of two principle organizers of Philadelphia’s neighborhood farmers’ markets. The market runs along Walnut Street adjacent to the square. Nineteenth Street is generally its end point. This year, as more stalls have been added — there are about 25 — the market wraps around on to 18th Street. Saturday hours are 9:30 AM to 3 PM, though on busy days by 3 PM pickens’ are slim. Tuesdays it runs from 10 AM to 1 PM.

At the top of the market at 19th Street is a large and comprehensive stand run by Rineer Family Farms of Lancaster. They also offer grass fed meat and poultry.

Photos by S. Poses

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market is the market I know best. I shop here nearly every Saturday. It is where I look forward to asparagus in the Spring, tomatoes and peaches in the summer and apples in the fall. It helps me know where I am in the world. While I worked on At Home, the Saturday farmers’ market provided a weekly jolt of seasonal inspiration.

Next door to Rineer is the Fahnestock Fruit Farm, one of two fruit specialty stands. These folks, from Lititz in Lancaster County, specialize in tomatoes, peaches and apples. That’s it.

Beechwood Orchards is the other fruit stand with a far wider selection of fruit and berries as well as some specialty produce on a side table.

Here are Beechwood’s Santa Rosa plums and Doughnut Peaches and Elephant Heart Plums. Don’t you just have a try a plum named for an elephant’s heart? Who even knew that there was an Elephant Heart plum?

In the foreground is something I first saw this year. They are variously called husk tomatoes or ground cherries. Under the husk, which you discard, are a little berry-like tomatoey fruit. I have tried them a few times and so far I’m not convinced they are anything but a novelty. But try for yourself.

Not many farmers’ markets have a dedicated mushroom grower. Kennett Square, about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia in Chester County is the “Mushroom Capital of the World.”

A recent discovery for me — and one of my favorite stands is Cherry Grove Farm. They produce world class cow’s milk cheeses in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Can the town that named Philadelphia Cream Cheese embrace a cheese as fine as their Toma Primavera? They also offer grass fed beef and lamb and certified Berkshire pork as well as organic eggs.

If your preference is goat cheese, we have that as well.

You can buy standard baked goods.

Christina has gluten-free tendencies and, thankfully, our market boasts arguably the best gluten free baked goods in the region from Amaranth.

While I’m on the subject of baked goods, Market Day Canele divides its Saturday between Rittenhouse Square, Clark Park and Fitler Square and on Sunday, they can be found at Headhouse. Look for them around the corner on 18th Street.

For your tabletop there’s Lilies and Lavender.

My go-to tabletop stand is Triple Tree Flowers — also at Clark park — where I either stick to Zinnias by the dozen or pick my own summer flower mix. If you make your own bouquet you just keep picking, show them what you’ve got, they look and think a bit and tell you a very reasonable price. Check out At Home’s Simplified Flower Arranging, a double page spread on pages 28 and 29.

An intriguing stand that seems to get little action is Otolith sustainable seafood. From their website I’ve learned “At Otolith, providing the highest quality seafood and supporting environmental sustainability in the seafood industry are our top priorities.” These are admirable goals that maybe just need stronger marketing consumer education at the stand. It is part of the larger problem of how to shine the spotlight on “proteins” — meat, poultry and Otolith’s fish — when showy vegetables are stars of the show. Perhaps taking a cue from supermarkets where they often cook and give out small samples. It’s an easy way to attract attention and engage potential customers.

Wine is not standard fare at farmers’ markets. But wine surely is a farmed product. Blue Mountain offers a wide selection of modestly priced wines from their Lehigh Valley vineyards. Blue Mountain wines are also available at Reading Terminal Market.

Just because produce is locally grown does not mean it’s organic. But if you are after certified organic local produce, you can get it at Rittenhouse Square.

My favorite stand at Rittenhouse Square is Z Food Farm from Princeton. While you can buy great zucchini and summer squash at every farm stand, Z Food Farm grows and sells more interesting and distinctive products of top quality along with the best specimens of more familiar fare.

The chief farmer is David Zabeck and that is his awfully hard working mother and dad above. In addition to Rittenhouse Square on Saturdays, Z Food Farm is at the Princeton Farmers’ Market on Sundays. It’s at Z Food Farm that I have found shiso leaves and lemon verbena — both nearly unseen at area markets. Their tropea red onions have become my standard addition to heirloom tomatoes this summer.

So there you have my neighborhood and its farmers’ market. It is a very well constructed market offering a vast expanse of what any cook would be proud to serve to friends and family. If you live in the neighborhood and do not shop at our local farmers’ market, you are missing an addition to your Saturday routine that could enrich your life and table. If you are not from here, I hope that you visit Rittenhouse Square with a new appreciation of just how special it is. And I suggest you visit on a Saturday…when our Farmers’ Market is open.

Steve Poses is founder of Frog Commissary. A local restaurateur, caterer and author, it’s his goal to increase home entertaining. Steve’s latest book, At Home by Steve Poses: A Caters Guide to Cooking and Entertaining, was released in 2009. It’s the inspiration for At Home Online, a website and blog designed to make home entertaining as easy as possible with tips, guides and recipes. Click here to subscribe to his e-newsletter. Steve can also be found on Twitter as @SPoses. Click here to follow him.