Smell my purple pepper!

Eastern Market
7th and Pennsylvania avenues
Sat., Sept. 6
9 a.m.

The air outside is brisk, and as I step out into the sunlight I can already tell that it will be a beautiful day. Perfect weather, in fact, for shopping at an open-air market. I make the short trek from JBKO to the Foggy Bottom Metro station and meet my trusty Features section assistant Jesse down on the platform.

Eastern Market has been a D.C. institution for about 20 years, yet it has taken me more than three years at GW to venture over to the Southeast neighborhood.

Riding the Metro over to the Eastern Market stop on the blue and orange lines, I prepare a game plan in my head. Cheese. Yes, I want to buy a massive wheel of cheese. I want to buy it and carry it proudly through the streets yelling, “this is my Gouda and I am NOT sharing!” Oh, to take over the world one cheese wheel at a time…

All dairy dreams aside, I am pretty excited as we step off the Metro and see groups of people wondering down 7th Street toward the brightly colored tents, aroma of fresh peaches and multitude of vendors selling their wares. I feel as though I am in the old country polishing my haggling skills, ready to purchase whatever delights are in store for me. Scenes from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” come to mind.

The Weekend Market Festival is separated into many sections. On one side of 7th Street, there is a parking lot blocked off and full of tables of jewelry, artwork, tapestries and practically anything that you could imagine. Well, within reason – there are no live farm animals for sale.

At any rate, I am a veritable kid in the candy store, perusing table after table of sterling silver jewelry, turquoise pendants and various rings, bracelets and necklaces made by local craftspeople. I should also mention that the term, “flea market” doesn’t really fit Eastern Market. There is really not a huge selection of thrift clothing and cheap items for sale. Most of the silver rings I liked were between $30 and $60 apiece. Maybe after a few more paychecks, I will go back and claim the turquoise ring that caught my eye.

We saunter back across the street to where the tent-covered tables of fruit, vegetables and flowers are located. The shade is a welcome change from the increasingly warm sun, and so were the free samples at many of the tables. Jesse and I indulge our taste buds with Asian pears, fresh peaches, white peaches and a variety of apples. Hailing from Georgia, I like to think that I am somewhat of an expert on peaches, and I must say these were some of the most tender and delicious ones I have ever tasted.

But, alas, I was distracted from my true mission at this market: my grandiose desire for a wheel of cheese. So Jesse and I decide to enter South Hall, a building that houses local butchers, seafood vendors, bakeries and a dairy. Walking around, Jesse points out the pig’s feet and lamb kidneys to me. For those of you who have never been to an actual butcher and do like to eat meat, I don’t suggest going. Tongues, kidneys and ox tails don’t really boost an appetite. I find it better to be ignorant of what I am eating.

And then I see it – a sign touting “cheeses from around the world.” I know immediately that this is the place for me. Fresh mozzarella, Brie, provolone, cheddar; this place has it all. The best part is, I get to sample any cheese I want before having to decide on what to buy.

The vendors working here gave me samples of Swiss, cheese with hot peppers and Irish cheddar. Looking around, though, I notice a block of green cheese. Yes, the perfect side to green eggs and ham: green cheese. A streak of courage wells up within and I ask to taste it. As it happens to be, this particular green cheese was called Darby Sage. Upon hearing this, I decide that I must buy this cheese because, not only does it taste surprisingly good, it was practically named for me. Darby, Derby, it’s kismet. So I buy a quarter pound of the Darby cheese and a quarter pound of mozzarella, a safe favorite.

The woman working behind the counter hands me a paper sack full of cheese and I am happily on my way, clutching the bag to myself like a small child would coddle a baby doll.

The next stop on our South Hall adventure takes us to the bakery at the other end of the building. After seriously scrutinizing cakes, cookies and pies, I decide to get an apple streusel. Content with my purchases, I walk back out into the fresh air and am ready to leave the Eastern Market.

But then one last thing catches my eye: a purple pepper. Similar to its cousin, the green bell pepper, purple peppers are a bit smaller and give off a much sweeter aroma. It is such a pleasing odor that I, from time to time, brought the pepper out of its bag to breathe in the scent. “Ah, smell the purple pepper,” I say aloud and in my head. If it smells this good, I can only imagine how good it must taste. And for $1 apiece, it better taste pretty good.

After almost two hours, an apple streusel, a block of green cheese, mozzarella and a purple pepper later, I am ready to leave Eastern Market’s Weekend Market Festival. I feel triumphant walking home with my wares and I plan to return to the market the next weekend.

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