Pepper Place Saturday Market has been voted best in Alabama and # 4 in the U.S. in America’s Favorite Farmer’s Market competition sponsored by the American Farmland Trust. The online contest, which began in June, is a nationwide challenge to see which of America’s farmers markets can rally the most community support.
Since it started May of 2000, Pepper Place Saturday Market has grown from seven tents to about 100 tents each week. Local farmers, artisans, chefs, and musicians gather every Saturday morning from 7:00 a.m. until Noon between April and December – rain or shine.
A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a Saturday morning at Pepper Place with my husband and daughter. It was the first time we'd taken our almost-9-year-old in a number of years; when she was smaller, the crowds scared her. Since then, the market's footprint has expanded and the "traffic" flow is better, resulting in less intimidating crowds. We had a great time picking out ingredients for ratatouille, plus colorful hot peppers, fresh free-range farm eggs, fresh butter lettuce, and a giant watermelon that took a week for the three of us to eat. (My daughter says she likes the kind with seeds better than the seedless kind you get at the grocery store, and we have to agree.)
In addition to all the wonderful fresh fruits and veggies, where you'll often find varieties you simply can't get in grocery stores (like arugula that's really peppery, or long twisty bumpy Asian cucumbers with tiny seeds), Pepper Place features local processed goods as well -- many with samples. We bought stone-ground cornmeal from McEwen & Sons and muscadine jelly from Petals from the Past. We sampled several salsas and Birmingham News reporter Bob Carlton's Soon-to-be-Famous Pimento Cheese (this is a cheese lover's pimento cheese, heavy on the cheddar, light on the pimento and mayo, with a subtle kick on the finish.)
In my mind, part of the success of Pepper Place is it's not just about shopping, it's about making a morning of it. There are chef demonstrations, live music, and goodies to eat on-site, from homemade Amish ice cream (you bet, my daughter loved ice cream for breakfast) to breakfast burritos from Homewood Gourmet to breads and sweets to eat there or take home. People bring along their dogs and their kids, and you almost always run into someone you know.