The Winter Underdogs of the Saint Paul Farmers’ Market

There is no better way to start a summer Saturday than strolling the aisles of the Downtown Saint Paul Farmers’ Market, inhaling the earthy smell of vegetables and trying to identify the herbs by scent as you pass. If the sunny bouquets of chrysanthemums don’t bring cheer, the children bouncing and twirling to the beats of live music surely will. But, as zucchini and tomatoes make way for squash and root vegetables, the urgency to visit the market fades.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Downtown Saint Paul Farmers’ Market runs all winter through April, Saturdays only, from 9am to noon. Though the fresh vegetables are gone, the winter market has a fresh energy of its own, offering a different mix of vendors: upstart producers offering new products like salsa and caramel popcorn, established producers who haven’t been able to get a stall at the summer market, and familiar, established vendors.  The winter market has a gentle, relaxed vibe.  Customers linger and carry quiet conversations over coffee and a pastry and meander the aisles chatting with vendors and sampling cheese, bread, and chocolate.

For the most part, the vendors of frozen meat, poultry and fish line up with their trucks and tables along Wall Street, while the purveyors of apples, coffee beans, chocolate, and cheese pack themselves into Golden’s Deli, which also offers a small dining area, across the street.

Here’s a sample of what’s available:

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Newly-arrived vendor Aunt Else’s makes æbleskiver from their family recipe while you wait, three for $5. Spherical Danish pancakes cooked in the rounded cups of a special cast iron pan, æbleskiver are rotated frequently (traditionally with a knitting needle) until golden brown. Aunt Else’s dusts their æbleskiver with powdered sugar and serves them in a bed of syrup. Aunt Else’s also sells organic æbleskiver mix, made with Minnesota grown wheat and organic buttermilk from Wisconsin, and pans.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Another new vendor, Driving Force Energy Co. out of Woodbury, MN, offers Sweet & Spicy Caramel Popcorn for $4 a bag. The air-popped popcorn is sweetened with brown sugar and agave nectar and livened up with a dash of cayenne pepper. Driving Force Energy Co.’s Brenda Stanton hopes to get a stand at the summer market to sell her array of popcorn treats and energy bars.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Long-time regular A Toast to Bread offers custard empanadas for $3 each. These crisp, buttery, crescent-shaped pastries filled with silky custard sell out quickly, so get there early. A Toast to Bread also offers savory tuna empanadas, as well as other baked goods.

Newcomer Snappy Dog sells salsa, mild, medium or hot, $5 for a 16-ounce jar. The medium salsa is tomatoey and chunky with heat that sneaks up on you. It’s summer in a jar. If the faint snap of vinegar reminds of you of homemade, it’s because Snappy Dog’s Dave Merten canned this salsa for friends and family for years, while making his living selling cars. Merten has only recently, in the past couple of months, rented A Toast to Bread’s kitchen on their idle days to launch his salsa business. “I found them on Craigslist,” Merten says, noting that they also rent to other upstarts. “An incubator kitchen of sorts.”

Lori Writer \ Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

One of the marvels of visiting the Farmers’ Market in winter is that St. Paul itself serves as a giant, open refrigerator. Rather than cramming their products into coolers, the meat, poultry and fish vendors display their meats on tables. It’s easy to fall in love with a ruby-red, marbled chuck roast, such as the ones from Chase Brook Natural, to take home and defrost for Sunday dinner. While they market their products to fifteen other farmers’ markets, you can find Chase Brook Natural at the Saint Paul Farmers’ Market only in winter. They can’t get a spot in summer.

Bar Five Meat & Poultry supplies eggs and fresh, whole, free-range chicken (roasters, fryers, and stewers).  Even a seven-pound roaster was tender and juicy, and needed no further cleaning. When asked if they are at the Farmers’ Market all year, the vendor from Bar Five replied, “The chickens lay eggs all year ’round.”

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Wolf Honey Farm‘s cinnamon honey spread, $6 for a 15-ounce jar, is popular among their regular customers, because, according to Dale Wolf, a beekeeper for 39 years, it’s high in antioxidants.  Heated, it makes a perfect dip for tart apples. Wolf says the honey’s high sugar content keeps it from freezing, even when temperatures drop to 20 below at their self-service honey stand in Wisconsin.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Golden’s Deli’s bagel sandwiches, $5.99 each, are toasted and prepared while you wait and loaded however you choose, with options including eggs and ham from farmers’ market vendors, turkey bacon, cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumber, jalapenos, and lettuce.  The bagels are from Bruegger’s.

Oh, and here’s a bonus: parking is easy to find.

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14 Comments

  1. Don’t you just love street vendors? My little home town (Juneau, Alaska, not in the upper Midwest, sorry) seasonally has several. But my favorite is not a street vendor at all, nor seasonal. Downtown Juneau Restaurants in Juneau have high turnover (pun intended) but this little ugly duckling eatery has made a success of many years serving a single dish… a kind of Russian meat ball with sour cream. Most afternoons and weekends about midnight will find it crowded with locals. Congrats, Lori.

  2. I really need to make it over to this market. I’ll have to find an opportunity in the next few weeks. That sandwich looks great, but I’m surprised it’s built on a Bruegger’s bagel. Seems a bit odd to me – regardless you can bet your butt that I’ll order one.

  3. I have to hand it to the hearty meat vendors, especially on those bitter winter days. I love being able to make it all year round without buying any meat from the grocery store.
    As for the salsa from Snappy Dog, the hot is a steal at only $5 a jar.
    Have dry skin? Next time you visit Wolf Honey, make sure to pick up a lotion bar (unscented, rose and my favorite, lavendar). The base is beeswax and it’s perfect for winter dry skin.

  4. Although they are not at the St. Paul Market during the summer, Chase Brook Natural is at plenty of other markets during that time. I visit Jill every week at the Shoreview market. I might just have to go to the STP market to say hello.

  5. Dale Wolf 02/24/2009 Reply

    I am the owner of Wolf Honey Farm and I’d like to say even though it takes layers and layers of warm clothes to stand out there, I have a following that I feel responsible to keep them supplied with good healthy honey all year long. The skin lotion bars and lip balms are espicially important in the winter. I’m not there every week but as much as I can be. Please stop over for a visit. I have more time to talk in the winter and I espically enjoy talking about the health benefits on honey

  6. st paul foodi 12/13/2009 Reply

    hey foodi’s! The st. Paul Farmers’ market is open all winter Saturdays only 9am-noon. Stop by and check out all the meat local meat farmers. Our group loves the Otis Family Farm, he’s super friendly and his meat is superb and he doesn’t charge the high prices co-ops and some of the other vendors charge. Trout is also sold and was most excellent. Foodi’s unite!

  7. chase, sorry business didn’t keep up. A lot of hard work to go back home. best wishes, try harder next time. bye-bye.

Trackbacks for this post

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  4. […] best hot salsa), Baja Sol (winner, most unique salsa), La Cocinita (winner, best mild salsa), Snappy Dog, El Burrito Mercado, and Boca Chica Restaurant. Many of these salsas are available year-round, […]

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