Have you ever been over protective of a family recipe? One you could brag about indefinitely and defend against adversaries. You may have even shouted in its defense and silenced a room, but that’s a different story. Maybe you make chocolate chip cookies or macaroni and cheese, both classic staples to many but yours has something special, something unrepeatable. Perhaps you put currants in your cookies instead of raisins because they offer a tart bite. Or maybe some garden peas slip into your macaroni and cheese as a reflex. Habits tend to become tradition, especially with food.
These types of recipes travel back generations, cementing their rightful place at the dinner table with a history that screams to be remembered. The spirit wafts through the house as it bakes. It seems to soak into the cushions so that the smell lingers hours after the last crumb has been devoured. An olfactory memory. That feeling seemed to encompass the farmers market we visited in Tremont nestled in Lincoln Park, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cleveland.
Around thirty white tents were stationed across the front door of St. Augustine’s Church, a landmark in the Tremont community, where meals are created and served to the hungry year round. The set up looked like any other farmers market, much like ones we have already visited. Lines of tents full of produce (both organic and hand made) attracting wandering visitors. However, like the smell of baking cookies, a homey spirit lived in the stalls. It did not take long to follow the trail and find proof.
As Jackie and I strolled into the market, I immediately bumped shoulders with a young man feeding blueberries to a lady on his right. He plopped them into her mouth as if tossing marbles into a glass milk bottle a short distance away. I assumed they were dating because she giggled between bites.
Behind them was a stall labeled “Nine Spoons,” lined with small plastic taste testers of soup. Nothing more. Jen, the smiling face behind the squadron of cups, shared with us that this was her Irish great grandmother’s recipe for Wedding Soup. She had nine children, hence the name. With soup this good, why sell anything else? Jen is the sole employee although she keeps her family busy with help from time to time. She takes great pride in selling her grandmother’s soup, especially since she passed away on Jen’s birthday this year. “It felt like she was passing on the torch,” she shared. That torch burns brighter with each bowl she shares with the community.
Jen’s neighbor at the market was a man named Mike. Based out of Old Brooklyn, he bakes everything from home out of a double oven from the ‘70s to create “Breadheads.” The smile on his face did not falter from the time we asked about his new peanut butter bread to when he bagged up the loaf and offered it to us as a gift. I could read the pride through his aviator sunglasses. It was blinding. I would not be surprised if he plastic sealed that peanut butter bread and hung it over his mantle. It was special to him and therefore worth a try. Even after one bite, Jackie might take a bullet for that bread. Evidence of its short life lie in the crumbs at the bottom of her car.
A few stalls down, an older woman presided over delicately arranged chocolate under a sign that read “The BOM.” I wasn’t sure if the sign referred to the lady or the chocolate, so I thought I would ask. She was selling alcoholic truffles “made with love and alcohol.” Although I had not seen her product before she reassured me, “I’m everywhere, I’m like mud on a horse.” That statement rung true because not only did she run an alcoholic truffle confectionary, but she is also the founder of Art on Wheels, a non profit that aims to give a voice to individuals of all abilities through hands on art experiences. It seems she is driven by more than those wheels but a passion for spreading love and spirits (in more ways than one) to the community.
As Jackie and I wandered through, camera and notebook in hand, vendors called greetings and invitations to explore. They did not wait for us to approach but reeled us in with their bait. A man called out to Jackie, “Ma’am, you’re gonna need a model release on those.” Only after looking up and seeing his gentle smirk did I realize we did not have to run for it. He was merely proud as punch and wanted to show off his prize summer squash. From our first step, an unspoken invitation to share in their passions was apparent. Folks instead asked us questions and momentarily our roles were reversed. A mutual understanding of one another was founded amidst the Green Acres theme song that wafted over the tents from the wooden gazebo at the end of the lane.
If I squinted hard enough, the scene might have been awash in a sepia tone like an old photograph. I did not check but I would not be surprised if the music overhead also flowed from a phonograph. From grandmothers selling alcoholic truffles to young women upholding an Irish family tradition, the importance of family and home ran rampant through the stalls. Pride in ones family history ensures that those traditions continue for generations. At Tremont Farmers Market, there is a passion for both upholding tradition and inventing new methods to continue towards positive growth. I will definitely return to greet the friendly faces that reside at Tremont Market, hungry for more peanut butter bread and a break from modern day city hustle and bustle. Slow down, take a breath, and try something new. It may become a new family favorite.
Tremont Farmers Market runs Tuesdays from 4-7pm
Story by Sarah Kloos, Photos by Jackie Stofsick