Chalky, crumbly, low on flavor — and please leave it in the oven a little longer.
You see them lined up on tables between the lavender sprigs and homemade soaps: pale, starchy, looking like a kid who hasn’t been in the sun all summer. These are the baked goods of the farmers’ markets. And not only do the cookies, cakes, pies, muffins, and sweet rolls often look bad, they frequently taste bad, too.
This cookie tasted OK, I guess, but, though it was supposed to be an oatmeal cookie, virtually no oatmeal could be detected.
I guess I should be grateful. Good baked stuff has turned the Madison, Wisconsin, farmers’ market into a strolling cake cram, resulting in collisions between pastry eaters on the narrow pathway that rings the capitol building, and a general de-emphasis on things you cook with, in favor of things you can eat right away — instant gratification.
I recently undertook a baked-goods eating binge at one of our markets, to see if this negative impression would be confirmed. It mainly was. Sure, there were a couple of good things — cider donuts, gingerbread, and a sweet roll with plenty of frosting on it — but these were notable exceptions.
Though somewhat unsightly, the gingerbread men were pretty good.
Next: The five reasons
This vegan muffin was joylessly gritty and mushy — but I’m sure it’s “healthy.”
Why are the baked goods bad at area farmers’ markets? Here are five reasons.
1. The farmers’ market has a captive audience, which often can’t tell good pastries from bad just by looking at them. So why make them any better than they need to be?
2. Too many of the baked goods are supposed to be healthy. Which means whole grains have been substituted for refined flour, turbinado sugar or fruit sweeteners for plain sugar, “expeller pressed canola oil” (sounds scary) for butter.
3. The baked goods are sometimes made for the purpose of burning off excess inventory. If you look at the awning and see the words “Concord grapes,” then find the stand selling Concord grape pies, you know they’re not selling them because Concord grape pies are inherently worth eating.
4. Wrapped in layers of plastic, many of these pastries were not baked yesterday — to be kind. In fact, the baked goods are often formulated to be dry and last a long time, as if they were being baked for mummies.
5. What makes you think farm folk can bake any better than you can? In fact, they’re probably worse. Tilling the soil is not the same as making a nice cake, and many of the skills we associate with the farm wife of, say, the 19th century, are long lost.
This sweet roll was pretty good — though not quite as good as Entenmann’s.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 8, 2011