Harrisonburg's Farmer's Markets

Shenandoah Gemstones Part 3: Harrisonburg’s Beautiful Farmer’s Markets & Thai Lunch

…Speckled produce… bright neon mushrooms… scarlet ghost peppers…

It was a brisk morning with valley hills entangled in fog and mist. Chrizar and I were under dressed for the cold, but we were counting on Heritage Bakery’s coffee and shop hopping to keep us warm.

She led me to Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market, where shy vendors padded up in coats and scarves had set up their goods for the day. The place was encased in a wooden pavilion where icy wind blew through.

Despite the chill, there was an enormous amount of color from the speckled produce to bright neon mushrooms to scarlet ghost peppers to amber jars of honey and earth toned fruit vinegar. Alongside the produce were pastel colored soaps with mesmerizing aromas as well as delicate handcrafted woodwork molded and polished to perfection.

After circling the place twice, I set my interest on Ryan’s Fruit Market, Madison Mushrooms, Hott Apiary, and The WoodArt Studio.

Ryan's homegrown ghost chilies.
Ryan’s homegrown ghost chilies.

Ryan’s Fruit Market caught my eye with his beautiful ghost chili peppers. He cultivates them himself and offered them in bags and jars of dried peppers. Even a small bag can be grounded up to create a devilishly spicy powder for your next dinner. I bought a bag and plan to crush them up and use them in African food experiments, since heat is key in a lot of African cuisine.

Madison Mushrooms.
Beautiful exotic mushrooms.

Next was Madison Mushrooms. I love mushrooms for their forgiving texture and flavor because they are pretty hard to overcook! Madison Mushrooms’s knowledgeable farmers don’t sell your usual white caps and baby bellas. These ‘shrooms, I daresay, are Super Mario exotic; that’s my way of saying they look otherworldly, and their flavor is nothing short of brilliant.

I chose four types from their arsenal and left with a bag full of them. I purchased the King Oyster, Gold Oyster, Blue Oyster, and Lion’s Mane. Their colors are vibrant, and they give off a smoky aroma.

After I got home, I roasted the Gold and Blue Oysters in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and used them on a homemade pizza to make the best mushroom pizza me and my fiancé have ever had. It was nutty, smoky, and savory, and the texture was juicy and tender. As I explained to my dad how special these mushrooms were, he joked that it sounded like I was comparing them to wine. These mushrooms certainly have flavors as complex as wine!

The last two mushrooms, the King Oyster and Lion’s Mane, were roasted with leeks and buttery New Zealand cheddar. The mushroom part of the casserole was earthy and tender with a lobster aftertaste to die for. But since my leeks gave off too much liquid, that part of the casserole was left alone.

Wildflower Honey
Golden Angels and Hott Wildflower Honey.

Chrizar and I visited Hott Apiary next; I love purchasing local honey because, like the mushrooms, you can treat honey as though it is fine wine. Owned by Mike Hott, he offered a variety of honey and beeswax products. Wildflower honey is among my favorite kinds, even though the flavors are relative to the region and the types of flowers the bees pollinate.

Hott Apiary’s Wildflower honey was refreshingly sweet and had a mango aftertaste I gladly added to my morning tea. In the photograph above, I also have Golden Angels Apiary honey, which I actually purchased from a separate local supermarket and not from the Farmer’s Market. The Golden Angels honey was delicious with a “berry” aftertaste, but I definitely enjoyed Hott’s honey more. I also left with a limoncello lip balm!

WoodArt Studio
Handcrafted Rolling Pin by WoodArt Studio.

Our final shop was The WoodArt Studio featuring the woodcarving and turning art of Steve Fischer. I adore handmade tools and fell in love with one the handcrafted rolling pins. The smoothness of the wood is hypnotic to hold. The wooden pieces at this shop are so expertly carved that it reminded me how humans can create art and tools as precise as machines can. Chrizar and I couldn’t get over the perfectly balanced spinning tops that kept their spin and speed for minutes! “Reminds me of Inception,” I said.

The rolling pin is my favorite souvenir because, like iron spoon I bought from the local blacksmiths this past fall, it was endearingly made with human hands, and human hands always have a backstory behind the art they create.

I also love seeing the people who make the items I purchase. You are reminded that a life was involved―something you don’t always remember as a person living in a mass produced world. Mass production has an important place in our daily lives because it has vastly improved our quality of life on a functional level. However, in mass production, you take for granted how items are made; you take for granted the people who make them; and you take for granted the materials needed to make them.

In mass production, there is the illusion of infinity and the impulse to consume because we’re under the impression that we can “always get another [insert product here]”. But, I’ll probably never purchase another rolling pin ever again.

In mass production, there is the illusion of infinity…

As a close to our morning, Chrizar introduced me to Thai Flavor for lunch. We were in need of something hot to fuel us before venturing to the next set of markets.

“Just to warn you, this isn’t fine dining,” she told me as she drove us. “It’s a hole in the wall place where they ask you what you want and serve it to you.” So, no over the top customer service like you tend to see in big name supermarkets.

To be honest, I prefer it that way. I very much enjoyed Thai Flavor; it reminded me of the small storefront restaurants in “un-gentrified” Sunset Park and Flatbush Brooklyn owned by families of immigrants. Service is simple and the food tastes homemade. The flavors of this restaurant aren’t “authentic” and definitely cater to a Western pallet, but that didn’t make the food any less delicious.

Thai Flavor first shocks you with its lime green walls and a desk lined with calendars showcasing beautifully dressed ladies. But, the familial customer service felt “natural”; meaning, I felt like an actual guest in someone’s home rather than another customer in a big box store being showered in praise in the hopes of spending an extra buck.

I felt like an actual guest in someone’s home…

Pho Noodle Soup
Pho Noodle Soup from Thai Flavor.

Chrizar let me try her Pho Noodle Soup, a savory blend of beef, noodles, green onion, and cilantro. It’s a very mild flavored soup with tender meats; very good, but I think I missed a little spice.

Pineapple Fried Rice.
Pineapple Fried Rice from Thai Flavor.

I went with Pineapple Fried Rice, my usual go-to when eating at a Thai restaurant for the first time. I love this combination of sweet and savory: it has the crunch from the nuts and rice, the umami of the shrimp, the nuttiness of the vegetables and eggs, and the occasional bursts of sweetness from the pineapple and raisins. This dish is the reason why I prefer pineapple in my dinners versus dessert.

When we were done, we took our food babies back to our hotel. We were pleasantly content, but still had room for dessert. Next stop: Bella Gelato.

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