The name doesn't exactly trip off the tongue--the Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market--but its location in the heart of Bethesda is hard to beat. Here's a look at what you can find every Wednesday and Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
The market got its start back in 1932, when local farm women banded together to sell produce to city folks and the growing number of suburbanites. True to its origins, the market still features plenty of well-priced fruit and vegetable stands, many run by second- and third-generation purveyors. The Russell Watkins stand has been around since 1935 and sells a good selection of eggs, sausage and jam in addition to lots of seasonal produce. Next door is Watkins Farm--no relation-- which Mildred Watkins started in 1945. The 85-year-old Damascus High School grad is still going strong, putting up pints of preserves ($3), gathering bouquets of garden flowers ($3) and, with help from grandson Larry Watkins, running her produce stand.
Not far from the two Watkinses is Windy Hill Produce, which Nelly Easton started in 1944. She is still a weekly presence at the market, along with her son Gene and daughter-in-law Rachel. Most of the vegetables they sell are grown on their five-acre farm in Damascus; the apples ($1 per pound) come from Thurmont, Md. The Renn Family, a market resident since 1944, features an impressive array of potted herbs ($1 to $2 each). Don't miss the exterior "annex," where mums ($4.75 each), sunflowers ($4 a bunch) and gladiolas ($3.50 a bunch) are sold.
Grandson Tim Mullinex has taken over Mullinex Meats from his grandmother, who came to the market in 1949. He sells produce, but it's the meat that pulls in his most loyal customers. Standard offerings include pork sausage ($2.50 to $3.50 per pound), smoked bacon ($2.90 per pound) and fresh chickens ($1.25 to $2.50 per pound). Just next door is Steve Burke, another second-generation vendor. His mother first came to the market in 1957 and retired only when she hit 90 three years ago. Check out some of Burke's more interesting selections, including English walnuts ($2 per quart) and Italian prune plums ($1.50 a pint).
And finally there's Johnson's Farmstand, a relative newcomer to the market (it got its start back in 1961), which sells both produce and baked goods. Head to this corner stall if you'd like a small raspberry pie ($2), an angel food cake ($5) or a bag of dinner rolls ($1).
PREPARED FOODS/BAKED GOODS
Harried hosts and hostesses often go from stall to stall on Saturday morning to put together that night's dinner party. They'll hit the Marquez Farmstand (Saturdays only) for Applewood smoked turkey ($3.50 a pound), smoked salmon ($15.95 a pound) and, come the holidays, gingerbread houses ($32.50). Other market highlights include Takoma Kitchens (Saturdays only) for home-style prepared food and baked goods and Chef Lau's, which is known for such vegetarian offerings as scallion pancakes ($1.25 each) and vegetable turnovers ($1.25 each). Come early if you want to lunch from this 27-year-old market fixture; the Chinese food here often sells out by 1 p.m.
For down-home specialties such as chili ($2.75 per pint), rice pudding ($1.75 a pint) and heavenly lemon cake ($2.75 to $4.50 each), head to Just Like Moms. Next door is another market favorite, the Happy Bakers, which is known for its carrot cake ($7 or $14), chicken salad ($7 per pint) and curry-tinged deviled eggs (35 cents). And pay a visit to Chris' Marketplace, where newcomer Chris Hoge has widened the world of fish cakes into a gourmet delight (seafood cakes $4.25; pastas, $7; dips, $4 to $5).
Both the Flower Lady and Plant Masters have indoor-outdoor spots at the market, selling everything from potted plants to exotic cut flowers. Another favorite among the entertaining set is Paul's Patch--especially John Paul's loose bouquets ($8 each). Prices are generally good at these three spots, but it's the friendly advice and flower-care tips that are the real draws.
7155 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; call 301-652-2291. Open year-round, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
CAPTION: Herb Harwood mans a produce stand at the Farm Women's Market. Below, pumpkins adorn the exterior.