August 1, 2012 8:32:12 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Sunshine bathed the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market Saturday morning as a friendly crowd under the market's shaded canopy checked out everything from peas to peaches, squash to sunflowers. A steady stream of shoppers flowed to vendor Starla Strait's table, which was laden with flaky-crust pies, golden dinner rolls and moist breads and cookies. Strait baked them all in the kitchen of her Brooksville home, just for the occasion. The mother of two is a regular at the Saturday market open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street North.
For 33-year-old Strait, baking is second nature.
"I went to work at the Ole Country Bakery in Brooksville when I was 15," she explained, restocking her table from inventory at her fingertips, packed in boxes in her vehicle. At the popular bakery, she was taught how to make all kinds of pies and other doughy delights during her employ there. But her earliest tutelage came from family.
"My mother and grandmother baked all the time," said Strait, who was born in Columbus and grew up in Macon.
She observed and learned from those good cooks, but she also relished being an "outdoor girl," helping her father on the farm. She drove a tractor and helped put up hay. She learned to grow and can vegetables, something she still enjoys doing today. With each skill came a sense of self-sufficiency that seems to sit comfortably on her shoulders. Skills she will no doubt pass on to her daughters, when they are old enough.
"Actually, my oldest daughter, Madison, who's almost 3, already wants her own apron and dough," Strait smiled. "I give her her own special little pan and a little dough, sometimes a little sugar or cinnamon she can mix in it. Then I'll bake it, and she'll eat it."
On Saturday, Strait was accompanied by her youngest daughter, 10-month-old Ellie. For much of the morning, Elllie slept soundly in a car seat, her baby-fine blonde hair ruffled by a fan her mother had positioned just right. When not sleeping, Ellie practiced people watching. She's already adept at charming her mother's customers.
Bees and baking
"This is my second year as an annual vendor at the market; I first started because my husband has bees," shared Strait, pointing out several different sized containers of Southern Gold Apiaries honey on one end of her table. "He had all this honey, so I thought I would bake a few things to bring, too."
A "few things" grew into a carload of goodies. Experience has taught her to always come prepared with crowd favorites like pies (she makes apple, blueberry, pecan and rhubarb, among others), white frosted cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and caramel nut rolls.
"I very seldom bring home pies or rolls -- or chocolate chip cookies," she grinned. Her own personal favorites, she admitted, are rhubarb pie and cinnamon rolls. Poppyseed is her favorite bread.
"Everything looks so wonderfully fresh and yummy -- and homemade beats store-bought every time," remarked Ann Younger, who made the short trip from near West Point to shop at the bustling market, which is also open Mondays from 4-6 p.m. and Thursdays 7-10 a.m.
Vendors like Strait add to the draw of the farmers' market, noted Amber Brislin, director of Main Street Columbus.
"Delicious and locally-made baked goods add to the variety of items we're proud to say can be found weekly at the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market. It's not just fresh produce, or crafts, or baked goods -- it's the perfect mixture of all these locally grown and made items that help make our market whole," Brislin stated.
The farmers' market season will continue through October. In addition to fresh produce, shoppers can find local craftspeople, plants and cut flowers on Saturdays. Several vendors, including Strait, are already making plans to be at the Holiday Market at the Hitching Lot, set for Saturday, Nov. 17, from 9 a.m. to noon.
"I'll be baking lots of pies and dinner rolls and other treats especially for the Holiday Market," Strait confirmed.
Long hours in the kitchen, often from 6 a.m. until evening the two days before market, can sometimes be daunting, but the youthful baker isn't deterred.
"I think about coming to the market and how pleased people seem to be when I'm here, and it keeps me motivated," she smiled.
STARLA STRAIT'S PEANUT BUTTER PIE
1 baked 9-inch pie crust
3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
Dash of salt
For crumb mixture:
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
For crumb mixture:
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.