Spring 2015 has arrived in Omaha Nebraska: the Omaha Farmers Market is celebrating its twenty two years in the old market neighborhood. Five years ago the market expanded on Sundays to the streets of a redeveloped AKSARBEN Village. We have lived in the AKSARBEN neighborhood for more than 25 years. Our house is a Bernie Quinlan drop kick away from the Village. Before the Village, the area was the Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track and Coliseum. The immediate area is still dotted with the Trackside Lounge, Turf Lounge, and the Fan Tan: providing a cold Metz, Storz, or Falstaff after a hot losing day at the races.
Each Sunday morning sometimes over a hundred vendors and growers create a walkway down the center of parts of 67th Street and Mercy Road. Consumers can choose from seasonal fresh produce, free range organic meats, baked goods, and artisan breads and cheeses. The meats; lamb and beef are grass fed free range, and the steaks and chops are packaged in protective plastic film and are sold frozen.
The immortal race horse Omaha is buried at AKSARBEN beneath the Market; not all that far from the Parthenon Greek Pastry and Erick’s Enchiladas stalls. It took many years for me to appreciate the hallowed tradition of the name Ak-Sar-Ben: it is NEBRASKA spelt backwards. I think that man’s best friends are also eager for the Market. Leashed and outnumbering humans, they seem to enjoy themselves as much as the shoppers and are quick and impatient to make friends with each other.
My Aunt Peg lived in Edith Street Dandenong. My mum also had a house that she rented in Edith Street; the paddock as we called it separated my mother’s and Aunt Peg’s house. All I remember of our family visits to Dandenong was the 20 mile drive down the empty Princess Highway in the Austin A40 or Vanguard. It was sort of suburbs to Oakleigh and then country. Past Oakleigh the Springvale crematorium was a faint silhouette from the highway.
I didn’t want to look at the distant building where they burnt bodies; I closed my eyes and pressed for the Austin to accelerate and bring us closer to two of my Dandenong cousins Andrew and Peter, and the hours we would spend playing in the overgrown paddock. As we got older we spent less time in the paddock and more time at the Dandenong Market: founded in 1866 it is Melbourne’s second oldest and second largest market. Aunt Bet, my mother’s younger sister, moved into my mother’s Dandenong house just after her marriage and my brother and I would be allowed to stay with Bet and Uncle Ken for a few days during the school holidays. I think my mum and dad would drive us at first, but as we got older and what was the last few market years we would take the train; over an hour ride on the red rattler from Newport to Dandenong.
Andrew, Peter, sometimes young Bruce, my brother and I would spend all Market Day Tuesday at the market. It was another Bernie Quinlan drop kick from Edith Street. Early morning we would rush down Market Street and into the cattle pens; we would walk atop and balance on the wooden planks that formed the chutes, pens, and gates. We would run along the wooden tunnels leading to the loading bays: closing and opening gates and sometimes being met with sauntering pigs, sheep, or cows. After going home for lunch we would share time between the stalls in the show grounds and what seemed the capacious roofed area crammed with tables groaning under the weight of fresh fruit, vegetables, clothing, shoes, jewellery, handbags, and all types of haberdashery. Around 3:30 we would amble slowly past every stall asking if they wanted any help today packing up. Sometimes we were lucky and they wanted help and we knew we were guaranteed at least a threepence or maybe a sixpence. Late afternoon we would walk, exhausted, down Market Street to Edith Street. I was unknowingly preparing for future market days at the Grand Bazaar Istanbul, the Isfahan Bazaar Iran, the Covent Garden Flower Market London, and other street markets of the world.
By the late 1960s, Dandenong was officially a suburban area of Melbourne and the Lonsdale Street area was being transformed by modern buildings; Steve De George’s Café and the market were another era, and market day had become a memory. And Aunt Peg and Uncle Ian built their new house on the paddock.
The Queen Victoria Market began in 1878 and was built atop land that was part of the Old Melbourne Cemetery. It is said that the Queen Victoria Market is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. The Queen Vic is a vibrant shopping mecca for Melbournians and a major tourist destination. The market is made up of the Delicatessen and the Meat Halls, and 600 retailers in shed laneways and streets; you are tempted with fresh produce, clothing, shoes, jewellery, handbags, haberdashery, meat, poultry and seafood, gourmet and delicatessen foods, and more.
I don’t remember the first time I overloaded my string bag at the market but I do remember the Meat Hall. A variety of sausages, mince, chops, legs, and shanks were displayed in trays at the front of each stall. Within the stall and above the serving counter carcasses hung from hooks on metal rails and could be swung and tugged to a butchers’ table for cutting and chopping. The floors were awash with sawdust; to absorb any liquid that dripped from anywhere in the store. Shoppers navigated walkways framed with swinging meat. Each shop had a butcher out the front dressed in the traditional apron slimed with blood from the morning’s killing screeching the day’s specials.
||Fresh Produce||John at the Queen Vic
These visits to the Queen Vic must have been the early seventies; the elapse of time can dilute a memory. I am confident that all Australian food and safety standards and practices were being followed. Maybe my memory is not diluted and I am just mashing the Meat Hall stalls with the street butcher shops and meat stalls of Afghanistan and Thailand. I didn’t appreciate the Delicatessen Hall when I shopped at the Vic. I would just rush through it picking up some cheese or bread not aware that I was walking the streets of a 1927 art deco village. The shops still have the same marble and limestone counters and the old wooden window frames and signage from when they were built. From an eclectic mix of thirty plus stores you can experience; bakeries and patisseries, artisan cheeses and breads, continental cakes, specialist tea and coffee, European sausages, and cured meats and more. At the top end of I shed is The American Doughnut Kitchen doughnut van. It has been parked at the edge of the market for over 50 years selling small, round, hot, jam filled donuts. It is a tradition to scald your tongue on the hot jam inside the donuts and to lick the sugar from your fingers and lips.
Dandenong Market was the first urban village where I walked among and atop grass fed and free range animals, watched the different vegetables appear in their growing season, talked to the farmers and producers, and touched just picked fruit and asked for free samples. I still enjoy meandering the markets and relish touching the non-irradiated, the non waxed or gassed in transit, and pesticide free produce; I wonder if that is my Australian Royalty descendent, a poacher sentenced by the English court to transportation to the Australian penal colony, ghosting his presence.
But I think Framers Markets should have shopping trolleys.