Thursday, December 23, 2010

Michael Gordon arrives to shop at St. Jacobs Christmas Market


Summer sausage at St. Jacobs
In spite of the strong Mennonite presence at the St. Jacobs market this is not exclusively a Mennonite event. Local farmers and market vendors from far and wide gather here throughout the year to sell what is reputed to be the most scrumptious produce, the tastiest summer sausage and the finest melt-in-your-mouth cookies this side of the Niagara river. Here in a barn that hums with Christmas activity, urban shoppers from Toronto and surrounding towns mingle with country folk in a heady atmosphere of Christmas bustle.

On the periphery of the market barn, the more hardy vendors have set up al fresco stalls. Out here where a fresh wind whips roses into the cheeks of outdoor vendors, the festive season is not yet evident.

Marcello Didiano, an Italian fruit seller, has the right idea. A rollicking hubbub of foot-stomping Italian folk music blares from a van parked on the edge of his tiny selling space.

The irrepressible Marcello keeps time to his music – probably in an effort to ward off freezing temperatures - by dancing up and down and waving his arms. Marcello’s neighbor who is selling honey is equally lively. Close-by, a sweet-faced Mennonite woman muffled up in coat and black bonnet, stacks courgettes and spreads new potatoes on a frost-rimmed tray. She smiles politely, but refuses my request for a photo.

Roses for sale
Today, on the cusp of a Canadian winter, both shoppers and vendors are clad in padded coats with fur-lined hoods, bright scarves wrapped around lower face and neck, woolly toques pulled low over forehead and ears. Gloves and fur-lined boots protect extremities. As thousands of shoppers trudge in from the cold, they come face to face with two hundred and fifty vendors.

There is no place quite like St. Jacobs Market. For foodies it’s paradise. For vendors, their booths crammed with delicacies, its a welcome addition to the Christmas purse.

I’m a pushover for cookies, and ‘Gracies Christmas Cookies’ smell, look, and taste delectable. A notice propped up on a tray filled with ‘temptation’, alerts me to the fact that Gracie is not providing samples that day.

Gracie's Yummy Cookies
But Eileen Martin, one of Gracie’s charming Mennonite cookie sellers, agrees to answer some of my questions about life as a Mennonite woman. Spoiled as we are, we often don’t realize that there are communities that reject modern technology. Mennonites generally don’t have electricity in their homes – no washing machines, no electric stoves or fridges, no hair dryers and … no computers! Old Order Mennonites don’t have cars, but some branches of the faith allow car ownership, as long as the car is black with an absence of chrome or ornamentation.

Leaving Eileen with customers clamoring for her attention, I head for “The Fritter Company”. The line-up for steaming hot apple fritters stretches forever.

Cheeses of every variety are on sale at ‘The Little Cheese Company’ booth. Their specialities include Goat Milk Cheddar, Goat Milk Cranberry cheese, Goat Milk Herb and Garlic cheese and a spicy Goat Milk Jalepeno cheese. For the peckish, schnitzel on a bun is a popular midday snack. Darlene Dunn wearing a perky Santa hat wanders among shoppers, stopping intermittently to hand out samples of pork schnitzel on a toothpick. We chatted awhile as I sampled liberally her pork schnitzel handouts.

Even canines are catered to in this festive season. Massive bones – guaranteed to keep a cantankerous hound happy for days - are arrayed in a macabre display on a meat counter. The bones are going for $10 apiece.

For a bird’s eye view, I visit the upper echelons of the barn where retailers of every description do a brisk trade. There are jewelery sellers, crafts of every description including unusual Christmas tree decorations, a stall with sheepskin hats, “sheep skin, not cheap skin” as their advertisement implies, and a hat stand selling ‘hats with bling’. Nearby one can browse for undiscovered treasures in a flea market, or shop for high-end furniture made by Mennonite craftsmen at ‘St. Jacobs Furnishings’. There is something for everyone.

Mugs for sale at Full of Beans coffee bar
When too tired to walk another step, you can either visit the ‘Full of Beans’ coffee bar, or sit on a rough-hewn bench at a long table with dozens of other diners and enjoy a meal from the flavorful ‘Sausage Express’. Failing that, venture out on an old-fashioned horse drawn wagon tour where children are invited to participate in a Santa scavenger hunt along the way.

Each December, as vendors, Mennonite and modern, work side by side in the warmth and sumptuous fragrance of St. Jacobs Christmas market, one can’t help but be immersed in a joyous mingling of Christmases past and Christmas present.

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 23rd December, 2010


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