For five decades, southwest Raleigh’s NC Farmers Market has offered seasonable, Carolina-sourced produce, straight from the growers themselves. Throughout the year, the stock lining the edges of the open air market building shifts with the harvests. Spring brings mushrooms and greens, and summer ushers in berry season. But fall is the time of truly classic North Carolina comfort food, including the reigning king of the autumnal dessert table: the pecan pie.
Exactly how one should pronounce “pecan” varies by person. Some say PEA-can, others say peh-KAHN; peakahn and peh-cuhn are in the mix, too. The only consensus is that there is no consensus, but however you pronounce the word, it can’t be denied that the smooth, brown tree nuts are a significant part of the local agricultural scene.
According to the North Carolina Pecan Growers Association, the Tarheel State produces three to five million pounds of pecans per year, grown across approximately 2,000 acres. Despite being a part of the Native American diet long before Europeans arrived on the country’s shores—and being a noted favorite of George Washington—pecan pie as we know it didn’t arrive on our plates until the 1930s. The rising popularity of Karo Syrup, and a recipe for pecan pie printed onto every can, meant that the pecan (and its sweet baked progeny) would be here to stay. With its impact and flavor firmly established, the farmer’s market dedicates a full day—November 30—to pecans every year.
“It’s definitely one of the staples of the holiday season,” says Monica Wood, a farmer’s market event organizer.
But pecans aren’t the only fall treat to be found at the farmer’s market, on Pecan Day or any other day in autumn. Every kind of apple is available, often after they’ve been hauled directly from our mountain orchards.
“I like something a bit tart, nice and crisp, with a little sweet,” a customer says across a barricade of apples.
“You’ll want to try the Staymans,” the seller replies. The Staymans are too tangy. Does he have anything just a tad sweeter?
“Try the Cameo, just down the row.”
The back and forth continues, the taste and texture of apples chronicled as a connoisseur would muse on fine wines, while yellow jackets sneak into the sample containers for a taste of their own. Down the row of vendors, you find apple butter, approximately 20 varieties of apples, and legendary cider by the individual bottle, quart, or gallon.
In addition to apples, there are enough pumpkins, hay, Indian corn, sunflowers and gourds to fill the lower building. While old timers make sales from the comfort of their lawn chairs, their younger counterparts rearrange the rainbow colored stock. From palm-sized Jack Be Littles and Baby Boos to bold, warty, bluish gourds, to a creamy, smooth, two-person-to-lift Ghost pumpkin—and everything in between—you’ll find produce, and enough of it, to satisfy any and all baking and decorating needs.
Occasionally, the smell of brown sugar and comfort food wafts over from the market shops. That’s where you can find more in the way of fall’s finished products: candied nuts, caramel corn, spicy pumpkin bread, out-of-this-world pumpkin whoopie pies and (of course) pecan pies in all of their varieties.
If you visit the market on Pecan Day, the State Farmer’s Market Restaurant will provide samples of pecan treats, as well as recipes for your own creations. Official festivities last from 11 a.m. to 1, but the vendors?
You’ll always find them selling their wares, rain or shine.