The Hillcrest Farmers Market had a soft opening this weekend at the Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, and we thought we'd drop by to get a sneak peek of all the tasty things that our area growers had to offer before the grand opening May 5th. And since it was early — and we'd left without our breakfast — we were overjoyed to see Jeffrey Palsa, owner of The Food Truck, manning the grill and serving up a full breakfast menu of biscuit sandwiches, breakfast burritos, fresh fruit and some of the finest sausage gravy around. He greeted us with a cheerful "Good morning!" and then immediately told us we'd better pay a visit to the folks selling strawberries because they were both delicious and selling fast. We quickly put our order in and went down to take a look at the berries.
I've always thought that fresh strawberries are one of the greatest teases that nature gives us every year; the growing season isn't very long and there's just a perfection in flavor and texture that fresh berries possess that isn't possible with those sour, tough things in the supermarket masquerading as strawberries. The berries we bought were grown in Cabot, and the first taste we took of those tender berries reminded us why Cabot is home to a yearly Strawberry Festival. The beginning of May is the tail end of the strawberry season, though, so it behooves you all to seek out local strawberries while you can, or suffer those tasteless imports until next year.
Another vendor we were happy to see was the Little Rock Urban Farming booth, which was loaded up with fresh carrots, radishes, and stocked with a great number of heirloom tomato, herbs, and other plants for the aspiring gardener to take home. One of the heirloom tomato species that LRUF has available is a tomato that I tried for the first time just last year called the Cherokee Purple. These tomatoes are some of the best I've ever tried, with their striking purple and green apperance and a sturdy texture that explodes with a rich flavor that strikes the perfect balance between sweet and tart. They're perfect for sandwiches, caprese salads, or just eating with a dash of crushed sea salt, and I hope that LRUF will have more than just the plants for sale in the upcoming months.
Of course, among all these vegetables, a carnivore like myself might feel a touch neglected. After all, fresh onions are delicious on their own, but they're especially when cooked with a steak — and what better match can be found for new potatoes than a freshly grilled pork chop? Luckily, the last booth in the market was none other than Searcy's own Freckle Face Farm, a small family farm dedicated to producing high-quality, sustainably raised meat grown and harvested under the least amount of stress possible. The folks from Freckle Face are always ready to discuss how they raise their pork, chicken or beef, and I was amused to see a picture album on their table with photos of the livestock and growing conditions. In a day and age where it's hard to find chicken that actually tastes like chicken, it's good that we have local farmers that are willing to put in the extra work needed to grow meat that isn't pumped up with hormones and antibiotics to provide bulk while sacrificing flavor and safety.
The Grand Opening of the Hillcrest Farmers Market is scheduled for May 5th, and will feature two rummage sales and an artists walk in addition to the regular produce and meat vendors. The normal hours are from 7 a.m. until noon, and the market will run every Saturday all the way through September. Vendors at the market aren't just looking to sell you their wares, they're excited to discuss all aspects of their products, so feel free to ask questions. With all of our area markets gearing up for the spring harvest season, there's sure to be something fresh and delicious being sold near you — from berries and tomatoes to Honeysuckle Lane cheeses from Daley Dairy. And of course, you shouldn't miss those wonderful breakfast burritos.