Capitol Market vendors set up shop
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While the weather may not be any indicator, one of the surest signs of spring is outdoor vendors arriving at Capitol Market.
Gritt's Midway Greenhouse, a steady presence at the market since its early days, was one of the first vendors set up and doing business Thursday. Jim Gritt was handling the cash register, and said he expected this weekend to bring more customers.
"I got here last Saturday," said Gritt, 70. "We'll stay the whole summer season and be back in the fall."
Gritt's was selling the season's first offerings — ferns, hydrangeas, tulips, lilies, pansies and their signature hydroponic tomatoes.
This year the booth will introduce its hydroponic lettuces and cucumbers to Charleston.
"We also are selling the early vegetable plants," he said, indicating cabbages and similar crops ready for planting in home gardens. "And we'll keep bringing more and more things."
Gritt grew up working in the greenhouse started in Midway by his father in 1944. He now lives in Florida, but returns to help his own children with setting up for the spring at Capital Market.
"I'm semi-retired, but I guess I can't get away from it," he said.
All around Gritt's stand were empty booths Thursday, but he said he expects that to change quickly as other vendors arrive and set up for business.
Granny's Greenhouse was also in place, selling some early primrose plants and shrubs to the season's first customers.
"We've been here since last Friday," said Carol Blackshire of Charleston. "I think the next few days it's going to be great as the temperatures go up."
Blackshire started out as a customer who became a friend of owner Rita Lovejoy of Griffithsville. Now she works at the market part-time.
"There's a lot of competition between vendors, but it's good competition," Blackshire said. "There's so much business, it's good for everyone."
She'll be assisted by Susie Ramie of Lincoln County, who expects to work Granny's booth seven days a week. Ramie was keeping busy caring for plants and readying the booth for what she expected to be a busy weekend.
Inside the market, Alan Hathaway is also preparing for a busy spring at the market. Hathaway owns the popular Purple Onion and WV Marketplace stores.
And with spring, he said, come requests for ramps.
The wild, pungent plant generates interests from diehard fans and visitors who feel compelled to take some home with them, just to try.
"When it warms up, you'll be able to smell them all the way down the sidewalk," he said, grinning. "Some call it a stink; some call it a stench."
Hathaway sells ramps to some regular customers who drive them to eager chefs in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
"I have a few hardcore ramp buyers," he said.
Not sure what to do with the onion-like plant? Hathaway will gladly share some ideas that he uses at home.
"Saute some ramps, asparagus with potatoes," he said. "Then the next morning drop an egg into the leftovers and add some Parmesan cheese. I love it."
He recalled church dinners in Elkview as a child when the men ate so many ramps, and suffered the smelly aftereffects, that they had to sit away from the main group.
"It's a distinctive odor," he said.
For those who want to try the traditional West Virginia delicacy — Hathaway says Richwood ramps are the best — his WV Marketplace stocks lots of options already prepared.
There is ramp jam and jelly, ramp relish, ramp salad dressing, ramp shortnin', ramp biscuit mix, ramp salt, ramp mustard and ramp vinegar to choose from.
Tourists make a beeline for that shelf, he said.
"Anything ramps, people from out of the state want to buy it," Hathaway said.
On April 20, Barbara Beury McCallum of Charleston will be on hand there to autograph her popular ramp recipe book, "Reekin' Ramps."
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at email@example.com or 304-348-4832.