Early Fall in Central Pennsylvania is prime farmers’ market season, as I’m sure it is in many places around the United States. My husband and I just harvested some of our first yellow bhut jolokias, some beautiful peach habaneros, and our moruga scorpion peppers are coming along nicely. Knowing that this is prime local food season, I took a rare day off from my business at our local farmers’ market, and my husband Dave and daughter Zoe ran the booth for me. I went on a spontaneous road trip to Eastern PA with my good friend Susan to explore and see what local goodies we could find.
We ended up at the oldest continuously run farmers’ market in the United States, the Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster Pennsylvania. This is a year round indoor market that has been in operation for over 275 years. Inside the beautiful red brick building is a teaming, bustling market with 70 vendors where you can find culinary delights ranging from foods from Ethiopia, Knackwurst from a German stand, fair trade coffee, Middle Eastern delights, Amish delicacies as well as local meats, veggies, and even fresh seafood.
As we made our way into the market, we were greeted by a busy local seafood stand. They had everything from sushi grade tuna, to shrimp, and even crab. As soon as I saw the crab, I thought of one of my favorite recipes, cream cheese and crab stuffed poblanos wrapped in bacon. With the shrimp, I thought of how delicious it would be to use one of the many spicy chile rubs available, such as ones from Volcanic Peppers, and make spicy grilled shrimp.
We wandered further into the market and I noticed a deli counter that had a variety of spicy cheeses, including cheese made with habaneros and jalapenos. Looking at their array of smoked meats, I thought how nice it would be to have a plate of local smoked meats, spicy cheeses, pickles and other finger foods and be able to sit and visit with friends, while enjoying a locally brewed craft beer, or a bottle of wine from a local vineyard.
Next we stopped at the Ethiopian stand to pick up some chicken tagine and vegetable and beef somosas. As we continued walking and eagerly eating our delicious wares, we noticed a booth that had a huge selection of blended salts. Here I found a siracha salt, a ghost pepper salt, and a habanaro salt. They also had a small selection of locally made hot sauces from the Lancaster area that I had never heard of. There was also a large selection of dried teas; one of the teas was a spicy apple tea. Nothing sounds better on a chilly Pennsylvania morning that warming up with a hot cup of spicy apple tea!
Further into the market my friend Susan was ordering falafel from a Middle Eastern stand, and I began looking at the selection of sauces and condiments he offered. Here I found small cans of harissa, a hot chile pepper paste that usually consists of roasted red peppers, serranos, assorted hot chiles, herbs and spices. Some companies use harissa as a base for their hot sauces, such as Apinya Coconut Harissa Hot Sauce. With all the local chiles that are coming into season, I thought about maybe trying to make my own harissa based hot sauce to go with the falafel my friend purchased.
We next stopped by a stand run by an Amish family, and of course we were able to find Central Pennsylvania favorites such as chow chow, a blend of pickled vegetables, and hot peppers stuffed with sauerkraut. They also had bright red jars of hot red pepper relishes which would be delicious on local smoked hot dogs or bratwurst. There were also jars of ground horseradish and a variety of hot pepper mustards, an endless array of inspiration for any chilehead!
And of course there were beautiful, locally grown vegetables. Multi-colored sweet peppers caught my eye, colors that ranged from white, yellow, orange, red, green and even purple. There were organic hot peppers of course, habaneros and pints of an assortment of hot peppers. And there were also plenty of poblanos, beautiful and dark green to purple in color, just ready to be stuffed with that crab and shrimp I saw earlier, and wrapped in nitrate free naturally cured bacon.
And of course there were gorgeous heirloom tomatoes everywhere, and even local tomatillos. One of the best things about summer is making a beautiful salsa with as many fresh vegetables as possible. I personally love to mix up my salsas and play with texture. I’ve made salsa with tomatoes, green pepper, jalapenos, habaneros, onions, black beans, peaches, zucchini and even cucumber. Don’t be afraid to go for whatever gorgeous produce catches your eye, and have fun blending different flavors and textures together.
Also look for ready to eat foods at your local market to cure your spicy cravings. In the market we visited, I noticed a beautiful buffalo chicken dip with blue cheese crumbles in a tinfoil pan, ready to be popped in the oven and heated up for a quick and easy snack. At another booth I picked up an atomic pickle for my husband, he had to be my guinea pig with this one because the brining liquid the pickles were in looked very red and very mean! They also had pickled hot peppers as well as spicy pickled tomatoes. If you take your time when you go to your local market, you’re sure to find hot and spicy foods that would satisfy any chile lover in your life. Take time to visit stands and talk to the vendors you haven’t shopped with before, you might be surprised at what you find.
I hope with reading this article I’ve encouraged and inspired you to go and check out what your local market has to offer, whether it be fresh ingredients you can pick up to make a spicy snack or meal, or maybe even your own hot sauce. Perhaps you’ll find something new that you have never tried before. Let your local farmers and vendors inspire you to try new spicy products. Talk to them and ask them what they like to do with their products. This is the perfect time of year to go local and support local in your area! If you find something particularly creative, or you’re inspired to try a new recipe, I hope you share your ideas with your fellow chileheads! Buy local and support local! For more information on the Lancaster Central Market, please visit www.centralmarketlancaster.com