All summer long, local foodies have flocked to the Bluffton Farmers Market every Thursday in sweltering heat or skipped between tents during flash downpours.
They come to swoon over Silver Queen corn or marvel at melons and butter beans.
Some come for the organic, right-off-the-farm produce. Some are there for still warm and outrageously fragrant artisan breads encrusted with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and stuffed generously with fresh whole garlic cloves or Greek kalamata olives.
Some are there for what has been called the best coleslaw on the planet or authentic Gullah gumbo.
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There are the foragers, armed with recyclable shopping bags and fanny packs with small bills at the ready to snap up flavored olive oils, homemade jams and fresh-cut pastas. There are the grazers, seduced by the aromas of French fries that surpass any you've ever tasted, or a simmering she-crab soup or fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Good luck trying to resist the cheesy jalapeno cornbread or caramel apples, the made-while-you-watch French crepes or a giant-size gourmet comfort cookie. Go ahead and buy that wedge of tarragon bèarnaise cheese and a tiny tub of handcrafted fresh chevre. Your company will love you for it.
With more than 2,000 Facebook fans and counting, the Bluffton Farmers Market is a local treasure trove of food finds, to be sure, but what keeps people coming back is the state-of-mind vibe every Thursday afternoon. The vendors are friendly, the music is live, and the shoppers bring the good energy that comes with feeling like you're on the VIP list at the best party in town.
"Love it, love it, love it," said Cheryl McCarthy, of Bluffton, a fan since the market's earliest days of a few tents alongside the Bluffton Oyster Co.
"It's gotten better and better," said McCarthy, who enjoys being on a first-name basis with the farmers, getting to know them and talk to them, and loves seeing people shopping with their pets on Calhoun Street.
"I much prefer buying there than at the grocery store," she said,
Manager Kim Viljac said the market at its peak features up to 50 vendors. As word spreads about its eclectic offerings, more shoppers are coming to spend the afternoon or evening, having lunch, browsing nearby shops and art galleries, then perhaps partaking in happy hour at one of many popular nearby watering holes.
While shoppers have just two more Thursdays to experience the market before it switches to winter hours, keep in mind that produce can be canned, baked goods can be frozen, and the holidays are just around the corner.
Farmers Market finds make great gifts and can help stock the larder for guests. Duncan Teed's taste-like-grandma's biscuits can be frozen. Rio Bertolini's fresh pastas, including saffron, black pepper and roasted beet flavors, can be purchased in perfect-for-one portions for just $1.
Singles take note: You'll find a great selection of prepared foods -- from Brentt Toole's award-winning barbecue to Chef Andersson's to-die-for crab cakes -- in any size portions you want. Why put up with another frozen pizza when all this is available and affordable right in your own backyard?
The market, open from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 18, will switch to winter hours beginning next month, and be open from noon to 4 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month through March 4.
Viljac says shoppers can expect to find Christmas trees and wreaths replacing produce, flowers and herbs; MiBek Farms' certified South Carolina-grown, pasture-raised, dry-aged Angus beef, perfect for a Christmas dinner prime rib; Chef Robert's handmade gingerbread houses, and fresh-pressed apple juice made while you wait from market vendors' apples, along with plenty of holiday pies, cheesecakes and Christmas cookies.
During winter hours, the market will move off Calhoun Street to the Carson Cottages.
Don't be shy about asking vendors for recipes and how best to freeze perishables purchased now.
For more information, stop by the Farmers Market tent near The Cottage on Calhoun, or visit www.farmersmarketbluffton.com or its page on Facebook.