By the time the opening cowbell rings at 11 a.m. in the cafeteria of Coventry High School, folks are already browsing, eager to sample and indulge in local specialties. From Connecticut cheese to artisan teas, jams, preserves and sauces, it’s not just about the food, though there’s all that and more to explore. You’ll also find unique handcrafted items to help you prepare, serve and store your food with style.
The Coventry Winter Farmers’ Market provides a local taste and a welcome break from cabin fever. We tend to think of farmers’ markets as warm weather events. After all, that’s when fresh fruits and vegetables grow. But a small group of vendors banded together to seek support from the town council to keep the market running through the cooler months. And due to the town council’s unanimous support, the show goes on from mid-November through mid-March.
Before you even step inside, Lizzie’s Catering/Taking Care of Tummies LLC is right outside the door to start your shopping excursion with breakfast sandwiches. Or stop by this food truck to try the Cajun corn chowder with thick chunks of red-skinned potatoes on your way out.
Our state’s oldest established preserve company, Woodstock Hill Preserves, has been making things a bit sweeter for almost 40 years. But recently, Maureen Estony changed it up by adding smoke from her own homemade smoker. “The (commercial) smokers are too large for something delicate like fruit, so I had to craft my own.” First, she had to figure out how to smoke each fruit, then which fruit paired with which wood. After a little more than a year in the test kitchen, she started selling her Mind if we smoke?TM line this past summer.
Maureen’s passion for deliciousness is clear when she talks about developing her formula and recipes. “It’s a real trial and error. A matter of balancing the flavor with the wood. I love to eat. I love everything about food. I once moved to Paris just to eat!” And she’s even been playing with using her smoked preserves for a dessert--peach bourbon chipotle and vanilla ice cream, for just one example. Mmmm. They’re simply elegant paired with your favorite cheeses, too.
So, find your favorite fruit and see which smoked preserve calls your name. Me? I couldn’t leave without a jar of smoked cherry bomb, chock full of plump tart Michigan cherries with a cayenne kick. My other favorite, the smoked pear, was delicately flavored with the smoke of pecan wood and super-smooth. As Maureen says, “The pear is absolutely unique. I knew absolutely in my mind what I wanted. I never had it, I never tasted it, but when I did it, I knew--this was it!”
If smoke’s not your thing, you’ll find plenty of other fruitful varieties to taste as well as pure lavender and champagne. www.woodstockhillpreserves.com
Cheese cognoscenti are well aware of two of our state’s gems. You’ll find a wide assortment of raw milk cheese from the cows at Cato Corner Farm in Colchester. http://www.catocornerfarm.com/
Meantime, you can get your goat at Lebanon’s Beltane Farm with fresh chevre. My favorite is coated in herbs. http://beltanefarm.com/
Have a cup of spring with Sunshine Tea from Whole Harmony Apothecary in Haddam. Or Cut the $#*+ with a detox tea for too much sugar. Almost all herbal infusions are caffeine-free, with the exception of the chocolate chai. We left with two jars—one of gingerbread tea, one of chai. The jars are artfully layered with herbs and spices. Just shake ’em up in a separate container to blend everything together when it’s time to brew.
You’ll also find two tonics: an elderberry syrup and the immune-boosting Folk Fyre, something new to add to your craft cocktail cupboard. http://www.wholeharmony4u.com/
Serve with style
Now that you’ve bought the tea, how about a one-of-a-kind teapot or mug?
Or a fresh butter keeper? Meadowpoint’s handmade pottery creations are not only lovely to look at, but also perfect for storing or serving with a touch of flair.
Simply grate garlic over the plate’s colorful and intricate surface to infuse that fresh flavor into olive oil or balsamic vinegar, perfect for dipping bread. Of course, you can find bread here at the farmers’ market, too. You can also use the plate to grate ginger or hard cheese. Great (grate) looks and multifunctional!
Some like it hot
If you’re a heat seeker, you owe it to yourself to break free of supermarket sauces and try Dragon’s Blood Elixir. Chef Doug Crane’s signature hot sauce is both an award-winner and his best seller. “This is my all-purpose. It’s the most versatile, because it will work with any cuisine. It’ll give you a nice heat, but not an obtrusive flavor.” Not to mention, for truly off-the-charts HOT, look for the bottles clearly marked with a skull and crossbones.
But heat’s not the only thing going on at Dragon’s Blood Elixir. “In the winter, there isn’t as much available, so I use commercially available products. This is an avocado lime. These are smooth-skinned Florida avocados, which have a great flavor, but not a huge amount of color. This has been very popular—a very smooth sauce. I wouldn’t cook with it—use it as a topping sauce only.” What’s the sweetness there? “That’s pears. Pears and apple cider. I like to use fruit and vegetable purees as my textural agents. So, none of my sauces are thin, thickened with guar gum, anything like that, which I think is a horrible practice. I won’t do it—I just won’t do it!” Check out a variety of sauces for cooking and for topping—from Thai to wasabi and much more.
“I’m a restaurant guy and I tend to use that as a metaphor. So these are the sauces that never change. If you come to my table at any farmers’ market, you’ll find these same sauces.”
Burnt offerings—with purpose
With so many fresh local delicacies, why wouldn’t you want a handmade whisk, cutting board or rolling pin as inspiration to play with your food? Glastonbury artist Denise O’Reilly retired from corporate life just a year ago. And, in her own words, started “burning sh*t on purpose and etching stuff on glass.” From trees and leaves to wild animal patterns, Denise’s creations are a stunning addition to any kitchen.
Now, for a vendor I’ve followed around since I discovered their peach habanero jam at the Wadsworth Open Air Market in Middletown. They make a mango habanero variety, too. For a level down from heat, try the peach jalapeno jam. In fact, there are plenty of choices, hot and not. They also sell marinated mushrooms (original and spicy) and atomic barbecue sauce.
Pure Love Granola
For a snack that’s both vegan and gluten-free, you’ll find some unique varieties at Pure Love Granola. All are made with organic extra virgin coconut oil and organic coconut sugar. The almond peach cobbler is a tasty treat. And how did I miss a bourbon butter pecan variety? www.purelovegranola.com
Find your way to the Coventry Winter Farmers’ Market Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., through March 20, 2016. The winter market is held at Coventry High School, 88 Ripley Road, Coventry, CT
With warmer weather coming soon(ish), look for the summer market, with even more vendors, beginning the first Sunday in June at Hale Homestead.
And learn more about your favorite vendors and where to find them through their individual websites.