Road Trip

Hungry? Harvest a Feast at Pennsylvania Markets.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WHERE: York and Lancaster counties, Pa.

WHY: These little shoppers went to market, farming of yore and a Colonial cooking lesson.

HOW FAR: About 52 miles from start to finish.

This Thanksgiving, shop for your holiday meal at the real super markets, along Route 30 in York and Lancaster counties. The rural Pennsylvania route harks back to a more traditional way of foraging and harvesting, with businesses selling produce still wet with earth and pies steaming all the way to the car.

The southern Pennsylvania area has been a source of quality food since the 16th century, when Native Americans cultivated corn and squash on the banks of the Susquehanna River. By the late 1700s, fertile soil and ample rainfall enabled German settlers to transform York and Lancaster into the breadbasket of the colonies. Local produce and grains were shipped to such major cities as Philadelphia, and from there to England and beyond.

Nowadays, the region's cash crops are soy, corn and alfalfa, but small-scale farms continue to thrive, generating a limited amount of premium produce and meats. The farmers rendezvous in places such as Lancaster Central Market, a food retail site since the 1730s, and sell their fresh goods to the public. Central Market House in York also hosts dozens of producers who supply meats, baked goods, fruits and vegetables that taste like they're supposed to: tomatoes are juicy, not waxy; apples are crisp and tart. More modest countryside outfits such as Flinchbaugh's Orchard and Farm Market, operated by fourth-generation Flinchbaughs, specialize in specific strains of seasonal produce, including peaches and apples (delicious in dessert pies).

"Farming has always been a way of life in this area," says Tom Martin, a local food historian who gives Colonial cooking demonstrations at the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster. He adds that foods sold in local markets are "much tastier and fresher than what you might get in a supermarket." For your holiday feast, that means the turnips will be sweeter, the turkey moister and your Thanksgiving guests much happier.

-- Ben Chapman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company