Fall in love with Philly's longstanding Headhouse Market.
Credit: Photo: Jason Varney

If you show up early enough to market day in Headhouse Square, you can stand in the warm morning sun and hear tables going up, watch produce coming of the trucks, and soak in the easy, fluid pace of a Sunday market as it blooms. It's early summer, and Philadelphia's Headhouse Farmers' Market smells of lemon balm, garlic chives, and impossibly sweet early strawberries. Chefs such as Chris Kearse of Will BYOB and Michael Solomonov of Zahav arrive early and will still be here making deals and planning menus as crowds of elderly neighbors and city moms, young couples, and dedicated farm-to-table devotees begin their stroll beneath the Shambles—the arched open-air gallery under which this market has operated on and off since 1745.

Dedicated shoppers buy most of their weekly produce at Headhouse and know suppliers by name. There's a fair amount of hugging, but not by the first ears of sweet corn. There, it is all business—supplies are limited and no one's messing around. Cherries, blueberries, and raspberries ebb and flow, spilling over tables one week, petering out the next. At the height of the season, Headhouse can have more than 40 vendors. On slower days, just 20 or so—the pickings are slimmer, but it always feels busy. With fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, bread, cheese, eggs, and flowers, it's a full supply-and-demand economy. Some people come only for bread or flowers. Some come for it all.

But maybe, in spite of all the bounty, you notice the cobblestones, the cupola where the bell once rang, and the red bricks of the headhouse (old-timey for "fire station") that gave the neighborhood and the market its name. Suddenly, the little dance going on in front of you (the laying of tables, the shifting of vegetables) takes on the weight of long cargo. Because right where you're standing, people have been doing this same thing for more than 250 years.

Recipes Inspired by Headhouse Market