Time Travel at Zern’s Farmers Market

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On Friday nights and Saturdays the place to go for local food items and an assortment of other shopping pleasures is Zern’s.   This place is hard to describe.  It’s part food market, part flea market, and part craft market.  Wrap it all up into an indoor shopping experience in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania.   This iconic place has been around a long time.  As a boy in the 1960s, my husband rode his bicycle there from his home in Pottstown, about six miles .  The signs certainly look older than him.   If you check out their website — Zern’s website, you learn that Zern’s was founded in 1922 and is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country.   The other local craft stores, antique booths, and specialty vendors probably came later.  We visited on a recent Saturday morning.

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The first thing you notice are the produce stands and food vendors.  My husband, a committed aficionado of the local specialty, shoofly pie, showed commendable restraint.  We came away without a single baked good.  He also loves the sticky buns.  He probably didn’t want to seem like he was consuming too many extra sugar calories while I was watching.  The homemade donuts here even tempted me, but we were strong.

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Next we came across a pickle stand.  This was a new one for us.  My mother always made dill pickles when I was a child.  My job in the pickling process was to peel the garlic.  We chatted with Philip and Tara at Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace as we contemplated the choices.   Pickle website

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They plied us with samples.  I tried the half sour and the spicy pickle. But I chose the classic garlic dill!  I asked Tara how they kept the pickles so crisp.  We are pickle makers ourselves but we can them in Ball jars.  When canning, it’s hard to keep them crispy.

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Tara explained that they make them continuously in big barrels, the old-fashioned way.  The pickles are never cooked.  When you can pickles you have to “cook” them in a hot water bath.

Sour tomatoes in the barrel.

Sour tomatoes in the barrel.

I asked Tara where she got her pickling cukes (cucumbers) all year round.  She coyly replied “we can’t share all our secrets.”   Fair enough, guys.  We’ll just have to keep coming back for your crispy pickles.  But come summer, when we can get fresh cucumbers locally, we will make pickles their way for ourselves.

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Larry got a pint of sour tomatoes.  I came home with some garlic dills.  Yummy!

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Zern’s also has a spice shop.  I may have mentioned once or twice that I love to cook.  This place has a great selection of fresh spices, and a lot of combinations like chili and curry.  They taste fresh but you don’t have to mix them yourself.  Now if I only had more people to cook for.  So many spices, so little time . . .

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Fresh roasted peanuts.

There are many opportunities to eat at Zern’s.   We passed by the fresh roasted peanut stand for a no-calorie whif.  Here is a meat stand.  I couldn’t resist taking a snap of these jars of bologna.  Being a vegetarian the picture was enough for me.

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And homemade fudge.  We walked fast past this stall.  Apple pie fudge?

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Then there were the farm stands.  I have to confess, if it was summer I would have come home with bags full of produce.  It was hard to get excited about shopping in January for fresh produce.  We didn’t buy any food.

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Zern’s has some very unique stores.   This display of gas masks just inside the door of Lou’s Surplus store caught my eye.

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I wonder if he sells many?

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This cigar store sold Amish cigars.  I’m not sure what those are — maybe handrolled by Amish cigar makers?  In any case, the tobacco aroma was strong.

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There are a variety of niche stores.  For example, here is one that sells kitchen utensils. It has an entire wall devoted to cookie cutters.   Below are a few.

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Zern’s is really a huge shed.  In the hallways of what is really a huge shed are displays of furniture, birdhouses, and even an antique carriage.  I don’t think it was for sale, but you never know!

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Locally made cabinets.

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Birdhouses!

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And wheelbarrows . . though these looked more decorative than functional.  Too pretty (and small) to haul mulch in.

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Miscellaneous household items.  I love the beer steins.

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Just as we were wending our way towards the exit, we noticed Little Richard’s.  This is not the place to watch your diet, or get a salad.  This is good old farm fare.

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I loved this sign at the back of one of the food counters.

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Some stores sell vintage or retro items.  Anyone for a green hat?

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We headed home with pickles for lunch.

If you are ever in western Montgomery County on a Friday evening or Saturday, stop by Zern’s for some old-time shopping.

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