Sherri Gerrin, from Liberty Farms in Clarkesville, is no stranger to uncommon-looking produce.
Every time she cuts into one of the large casaba melons, customers ask, “What’s that?”
“About the only way to sell them is to cut one up and them try it, because they’re afraid they’re buying something they won’t like,” said Gerrin, who is one of several farmers who lines tables and fills baskets with familiar and nontraditional fruits and vegetables at The Original Hall County Farmers Market in Gainesville.
The strong cantaloupe smell usually draws a crowd, but the long odd-looking fruit stops them short, Gerrin said. She always brings a few of the fruit with its light orange-pink interior similar to a cantaloupe color for people to try
“They don’t want to try it, and then they try it and they’re like ‘Oh we want one,’” Gerrin said.
Their straight-from-the-farm freshness lures customers to the open-air market on Crescent Drive in Gainesville. But it is the unusual fruits and vegetables that have customers doing a double take.
One such unusual-looking vegetable well-known for being fried in the South is okra.
“(People are) telling me ways to cook (okra) that I’ve never heard of,” Melissa Frantz said. “I’ve learned a lot from listening to others, and I pass on the information.”
The woman, who has driven from Cleveland to Gainesville for three years for the food, said both colors of vegetable “is a good seller.” Burgundy okra is a rich, deep red, while Clemson’s spineless okra is a bright green.
“(There is) a definite difference in the taste,” Frantz said. “The red okra is less slimy and it can get longer and not get woody.”
She explained if green okra gets long, “it’s going to get woody, and it’s more slimy.”
In addition to the two-colored okra, one of the most sought-after items at the farmers market is the purple majesty potato.
“It’s an all-blue potato, blue skin, blue flesh,” said David White, president of nonprofit organization in charge of The Original Hall County Farmers Market. “You can make blue mashed potatoes with it. I have certain customers that’s the only potatoes they want. They are that good. It’s an all-purpose potato.”
White, who owns It Began With a Seed Farm in Lula, said the purple majesty is one of eight varieties of potatoes grown.
“People have their favorites,” he said.
While its coloring is not purple, the pattypan squash is another unique-looking vegetable. Its thick and wide shape is edged with round scalloped edges. But its flavor is familiar.
“It tastes very similar to yellow squash,” Frantz said. “It’s a little different, has a little different texture.”
Many customers are unfamiliar with how to cook the squash, but Frantz said it’s simple. Pattypan squash can be grilled, stuffed, baked or sauteed.
Along with the uncommon and sometimes unrecognizable fruits and vegetables, most farmers have a mixture of the traditional and unknown varieties such as tomatoes.
“We grow heirlooms,” White said, pointing to his smaller tomatoes compared to the large red-ripe ones. “We grow a lot of the old-timey stuff, the stuff that’s not disease-resistant. The reason is they have the flavor.”
The flavorful produce is vine-ripened and White guarantees a fresh taste.
“Like the tomatoes, we never pull them green and turn them off the vine, they’re always vine-ripe,” he said. “We picked all of these tomatoes yesterday after 5 p.m.”
Lifelong farmer Lamar Presley, in fact, was surprised by customers’ desire for yellow tomatoes instead of the traditional red this season.
“The yellow tomatoes are what have really made a comeback this year,” said Presley, adding he now has a waiting list for sweeter yellow tomatoes. “I carry a little yellow cherry tomato, like the red cherry tomato, and they went crazy over them this year. I didn’t plant enough of them.”
Admitting he didn’t eat tomatoes until he was 50 years old, he still doesn’t crave them, but knows a couple of things to remember.
“Tomatoes and green beans are like liquor; you grow them to sell, you didn’t grow them to eat,” Presley said.
The Original Hall County Farmers Market on the corner of Jesse Jewell and Interstate 985 is open twice a week from 2:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
For more information about The Original Hall County Farmers Market, visit www.hallcountyfarmersmarket.org.