Arlington County welcomed its sixth farmers market on Tuesday with the addition of the Crystal City Farmers Market. The new market, located steps from the Crystal City metro station, is the brainchild of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership established in April 2006 to provide a “higher level of service to visitors, workers and residents in Crystal City”. Last year Crystal City BID began a Community Supported Agriculture program with Great Country Farms for residents and employees of Crystal City. The overwhelming success of this program highlighted the demand for fresh produce, meats and dairy within Crystal City, leading to the creation of its first farmers market. My friend James, a resident of Crystal City, first told me of the new market back in April, so I was looking forward to opening day. To add to my excitement, I saw on their website that both Red Apron and Meat Crafters (two vendors I’ve been dying to try) were participating in the new market. As I reviewed the expected list of vendors on their site, I was impressed that a brand new market was able to get such a diverse list of vendors. The list included four bread/pastry vendors (including one of my favorites, Atwater’s Bakery), four meat producers (with everything from pork to lamb) and a wealth of fruit and vegetable farms. Even more interesting, I noticed a loose leaf tea vendor (and we all know by now how much I love my loose teas) and a seller of salsas and pico de gallos made from locally grown ingredients (for a full list of vendors, go to the Crystal City Farmers Market website). To say I was excited would be an understatement (and let’s not point out how sad it may seem that I get this excited about farmers markets). So on Tuesday, I headed over to Crystal City with my reusable shopping bag in tow.
When I got off the metro, I was a little disoriented, as I’m not familiar with Crystal City. I took a guess and walked down the hill, hoping I was going in the right direction. When I saw the white tents on Crystal Drive, I figured I had either stumbled upon the farmers market or some sort of tent revival. The market stretches from 18th to 20th street, lining both sides of the sidewalk with vendors. The first vendor I saw was a familiar one, Toigo Orchards. Sprawled out along the table were an intricate mass of tomatoes still clinging to their bright green vines. These were the first vibrant tomatoes I’ve seen this Spring at any farmers markets. I had promised myself I would try my hand at making and canning my own tomato sauces this year, so they were quite tempting. But I opted to wait until tomato season was in full swing before making my own sauces. Togio also had their collection of tomato sauces and apple products prominently displayed next to the tomato shrine. People were lining up for the sample of apples out and animatedly asking about the various products for sale on the tables. I usually pick up a jar of their tomato sauce but since I still had some of Chef Stefano’s smoky bacon and Parmesan pasta sauce from The Copper Pot, I decided to move along to the other vendors.
Jars of loose teas populated the next table, signaling that I’d found the new loose tea vendor TeaCo. Myra Ceasar, one of the people behind TeaCo, was explaining the various blends to an eager young lady, unlocking the jars for her to smell. She had the black teas separated from the other teas, allowing customers to see the various lines offered. Myra admitted she’d brought a limited supply of teas since it was their first time at the new market. As with many loose tea purveyors, TeaCo offers a variety of blends of tea leaves that fall into one of six categories: black teas, green/white teas, oolong teas, herbal teas, rooibos teas and medicinal herb teas. They work with tea growers around the world in an attempt to get high quality leaves for their tea. While she had the more familiar blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, she also had some unique blends that caught my eye. The Persian Rose blend was already in a cute glass jar container, perched at the front of the table. The blend has a strong, earthy aroma, mixing the smells of rose with a hint of cardamom and bergamot. I love a good rose tea and I also love cardamom, so I was anxious to see how the two would work together in one cup. Myra offered other blends to smell, each having its own signature fragrance. I asked about the coconut creme blend listed on the sign. Myra laughed and said unfortunately, she hadn’t brought that blend to market. However, several people had already asked her about that very blend. She said she would probably bring more varieties of tea next week, including the coconut creme. She mentioned that they also sell their teas at Eastern Market during the weekends, bringing a larger selection of their blends to that market. I bought the jar of Persian Rose and thanked her for bringing loose teas to more markets in the DC area.
Displays of colorful hanging baskets of flowers dotted the Four Seasons Nursery tent. Although I’m not one to buy plants (mostly because I am the equivalent of the plant Grim Reaper), the vibrant colors drew my eye to the stand. The gentleman manning the tent was giving an older lady advice about low maintenance, but pretty plants for her condo. Apparently she also had problems keeping plants alive for very long. Four Seasons also had several herb plantings, including bushy basils and arugula plants that looked ready to eat. But Four Seasons wasn’t the only stand with plants and flowers. Beautiful orchids (one of my favorite flowers, mind you) lined the Orchid Station while LynnVale Studios had an assortment of different flowers in rich, lively tones. Even though it wasn’t all that sunny, the array of flowers at the market certainly reminded us of Spring’s arrival. Considering my long metro ride home, I opted against getting any plants or flowers from the market that day.
I was pleased to see one of my new favorite vendors Cherry Glen Goat Cheese at the market. However, I was a little disappointed to find Cherry Glen was the only cheese or dairy vendor at Crystal City. I was consoled, however, by the fact that Cherry Glen had samples of their goat cheeses out to try. I still had a bit of the Monocacy Gold left from my purchases at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, so I didn’t pick up any more. But I did learn they also offer fresh ricotta cheese.
As I continued along, I caught sight of the sign for Bigg Riggs Farms, a vendor I have read about numerous times from my fellow DC Foodies writer, Ramona Padovano. I had never seen them at other markets I frequent, so I was curious to see what they had to offer. One side of their tent was a table filled with salad greens fresh picked that day. The mixes were voluminous, spilling out of their baskets and onto the table. It looked like an explosion at a salad bar with green and deep purple leaves everywhere. Before buying a bag of them, I looked around the rest of the tent and saw an interesting glass bottle sitting atop wooden crates. Upon closer inspection, I found a ramp suspended in clear liquid, labeled ramp vinegar. I have seen my fair share of ramps this season at the markets, but this was the first time I saw a ramp product at the market. Although I was tempted to buy a bottle, my lack of affection for vinegars in general kept me from doing so. Bigg Riggs also had a nice selection of jams, sauces, apple butters and hot pepper jellies for sale, all stacked strategically around the tent. I bought a heaping bag of the salad greens and promised myself I’d get the ramp vinaigrette if it was available next time.
Atwater’s familiar display case of breads was a welcome sight, but so were the other bread vendors at the market. Great Harvest Bread Company was giving out samples of their bread, so James (my frequent farmers market companion) decided to try their cheddar garlic bread. Unlike some vendors who only give small samples, the man standing guard at Great Harvest cut off a healthy chunk of the bread for James to taste. As we both sampled the hunk, we were told all the bread was made from fresh ingredients using no preservatives. The taste of garlic permeated every inch of the bread, but the addition of molasses kept it from overpowering it. James bought a loaf of their jalapeno cheddar bread while I mulled over the selection of cookies. In the end, I decided not to get any because a lovely container of strawberries caught my eye.
The strawberries in question lined the front table at Westmoreland Produce. Their sign promised fresh produce free of any pesticides or chemicals, but I didn’t see any other information about the farm. The table was fairly crowded with people looking over their selection of salad greens, spring onions, strawberries and container plants and flowers. The strawberries were a bright red and plump – in other words, irresistible. A large container of strawberries was only $5, so I snapped up some with the intent to make a shortcake with them. As I was paying for the strawberries, I chatted briefly with one of the ladies at the stand. She said they were surprised at the turnout for the new market but happy to be busy. And they were busy – as I finished paying, she ran off to help another lady looking at the various plants available.
I will be honest; I was really scanning the market for the Red Apron sign. I glanced here and there at the other vendors, but my eyes were always on the hunt for the red sign marking Nathan Anda’s charcuterie. His hot dogs and cured meats have set the DC foodie community buzzing, with entire threads posted about them on Donrockwell.com and other DC centric food blogs. While his meats are currently available for sale at Planet Wine in Alexandria, I don’t make it out to the less than metro friendly Alexandria that often. So you can only imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see the elusive meat vendor at Crystal City. Market manager Sara Abramson informed me logistical issues kept Red Apron and Meat Crafters from joining the market on its opening day. The next day at Penn Quarter I finally met up with Nathan and his hot dogs and learned red tape with Arlington County was holding up their start at the Crystal City Farmers Market. They do, however, hope to have everything resolved shortly and to start selling at Crystal City soon.
Strawberry Shortcake with Black Pepper Biscuits
For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
1 egg and a teaspoon of water, for the egg wash
For the strawberries:
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons quality, aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the freezer.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours to allow the berries to marinate.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and baking soda. In a food processor, combine the sifted dry ingredients and the butter, evenly distributing the cubes of butter amongst the flour mixture. Pulse the ingredients repeatedly until they form a dry crumble consistency. Slowly pour the buttermilk into the food processor and resume pulsing until a soft, wet dough is formed. Gently scrape out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and then roll it out to 1 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut eight circles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Whisk together the egg and water and brush the wash over each biscuit. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
While the biscuits are cooling, take out the whisk and bowl for the stand mixer. Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl and whip on medium speed until soft peaks are formed and no liquid remains. Be careful not to overwhip, as this will cause the cream to curdle and become a mess.
Allow the biscuits to cool to room temperature. Split one of the biscuits in half and place a dollop of whipped cream on top. Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the cream. Place the biscuit top slightly askew of the cream and berries. If you’d like, top the biscuit with some more cream and a bit more of the berries (this is totally optional and depends on your level of decadence). Repeat this procedure for the remaining biscuits and serve.
The Crystal City Farmers Market is located on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Street from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday.