The Portland Indoor Winter Market may have its foibles, but it is a wonderful market for local vegetables, meats, dairy and now even “the controversial” baked goods.
Saturday, December 6, was the start of the 2014 Portland Indoor Winter Farmer’s Market held at the Urban Farm Fermentory in Bayside. By 9 a.m. the small ice-sheathed parking lot was full, and several hours later it was peak attendance inside as shoppers convened en masse within the tight space of this Bayside building.
Faithful market shoppers are thrilled that the market has gone indoors for the winter, but it still has its limitations compared to other markets around the state, many of which operate more freely than Portland’s heavily restricted farmer’s market.
To wit: you can’t munch on a muffin grab a cookie, gobble up pies and cakes or pick up some chowder—in fact, there’s not much you can eat on the spot because the rules and regulations ordained by the city of Portland are so restrictive—more so than any other community in Maine.
Other farmer’s venues are now being billed as artisan markets, which allow all kinds of artisanal food and food-related vendors as long as their products are made in Maine. From glassmakers to pie makers, these markets such as in Brunswick, Saco and York are more diverse. But tradition has it that Portland’s farmers’ markets must be a true farmer’s market, selling products plucked from the ground up. That means that fruits, vegetables, flowers and seedlings are locally sourced and allowed. Honey, jams, pickles, relishes and the like can be sold if the vendor is licensed by the Maine Department of Agriculture. And that goes for producers of eggs, poultry, beef, pork, lamb and all dairy products.
There’s a big list of “don’ts” in Portland’s laws, and I’m especially amused by this rule in the ordinance: “It does not allow for the sale of such items as rice crispy squares, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fudge, or brownies, to name a few.” And heaven help us if any pie or cake shows up with pastry or whipped cream — verboten and surely abominations of civility, especially those nasty rice crispy squares.
Still, there was great spirit at the market. And since the emphasis at Portland’s market is produce, there’s plenty of it. By late morning the place was shoulder to shoulder. Everyone was happy to be indoors especially the farmers grateful to be protected from the elements.
Two popular vendors, however, are no longer at the market: Maine Pie Line and Bomb Diggity Bakery. These two especially added greatly to the market as you could smell the sweet scents of their baked goods in the air. Pie Line closed shop for personal reasons and Bomb Diggity needed more space for their wholesale operation; also the city apparently had issues with Bomb Diggity over selling to market shoppers out of their bakery space (or so the story goes?).
But Lauren Pignatello of Swallowtail Farm and Creamery saved the day because she brought in cartons full of her farm baked pies, pastries and cakes. Under the market regulations this was allowed because she followed the city’s 49 percent rule regarding baked goods , which says, in part “ … provided that the total amount of sales from all such items does not exceed 49% of the total amount of sales made by the licensee at the Farmer’s Markets.” (Written in classic gobbledygook.)
With a mental abacus in her eyes (and a breast feeding baby in her arms) she and her baking crew put out a dazzling display of baked goods. From the terrific cherry and peach slab pie to countless quiche, hand pies and Christmas fruit cakes, her table in the former Bomb Diggity space was a crowd-pleaser.
Otherwise it was business as usual with many familiar faces of vendor-farmers from the summer markets. Storage vegetables like potatoes, squash, carrots, and onions were plentiful. Greens were in high supply, too, since so many farmers now keep year-round crops growing in their hoop and greenhouses so that chard, lettuce, spinach and kale are literally fresh off the farm. Cheese, eggs, milk and other dairy products are sold by many venders like Balfour, Kennebec Cheesery and Swallowtail. And there’s the full panoply of beef, pork, lamb and poultry from such local farms as Sumner Valley, Dandelion Spring and South Paw.
What’s always striking is to see New Gloucester’s Olivia Garden tomatoes looking as full and red as sun-ripened in August as well as crisp heads of lettuce and other greens.
Hungry for a good breakfast, I worked up quite an appetite after seeing all that food on display. I skedaddled over to the Bayou Kitchen afterwards where the wafting smells of bacon, home fries and eggs on the flattop, with omelets galore, huge pancakes and great swaths of crispy hash were irresistible. The diner next to me was just served a side order to her pancakes of pumpkin corn bread straight off the grill. I ogled it shamelessly. I settled for a simple dish of home fries with a breakfast egg, cheese and sausage sandwich, one of the best I’ve had lately.