The vivid colors of fall overwhelm the eye as one walks into a Farmers Market on a September morning. Peppers in outlandish shades of yellow, red, purple, amethyst and all the permutations of green are piled up alongside purple and white eggplant, yellow and green squashes and the early varieties of apples, particularly Virginia's own home-grown Ginger Gold and Gala varieties.
Kettle corn and bread and pastries vie for attention along with homemade jams, salsas, relishes and sauces. The passion for Southwest Mexican foods is not ignored. No longer does the shopper find just bell and Italian frying peppers, but poblanos, habaneros, jalapenos and banana chilies as well.
<b>ARLINGTON</b> has several markets including the Arlington County Farmers Market, which meets at North 14th and North Courthouse on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m.-noon. The market, which opened in April, continues until Dec. 21, and this year for the first time will reopen on Jan. 4, 2003.
"This fall we still have tomatoes, fall vegetables, winter squashes, apples, pears, all the fall greens — broccoli, cauliflower and kale," said Tom Tyler, extension agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington.
The largest farmers market in Arlington, it has 34 vendors. There are those offering baked goods, including an organic bread baker; those selling meat from pastured animals that are hormone free; and eggs and dairy products including cheese.
There is a vendor who makes homemade herbal soap, and this year, for the first time, there is a vendor from Loudoun County who is offering authentic handmade mozzarella cheese from water buffalo.
During the holiday season there will be Christmas trees, wreaths and other greenery.
Like the markets in Loudoun and Fairfax, all goods sold at the Arlington County Market must be home-grown or home-produced by vendors.
<b>THE SUMMER'S DROUGHT</b> had farmers concerned, "but there are plenty of peppers, squashes and eggplants now, and October will bring cabbage and broccoli, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, all those wonderful fall greens," said Sandy Flowers, Fairfax county outreach coordinator, who supervises the Farmers Markets and the master gardener program.
One major worry had been the pumpkin crop. "A lot of them were fried during the summer, but there will be some," Flowers said, thanks to the recent rain.
"We can help both the cook and the gardener," she said, pointing out the markets will also carry perennials that need to be planted this season.
In order to sell at the markets sponsored by the county Park Authority, the products have to be grown by the vendor, who must come from an area within 125 miles of Fairfax County. Right now they do not carry dairy, eggs, meat or fish, although that may change in the future, once all health regulations can be followed.
The markets will be open through the last week of October, except for McLean, which stays open until Nov. 15; Annandale, which is open until Nov. 7; and Mount Vernon, which goes until Thanksgiving.
<b>IN LOUDOUN</b> there are five markets, which will be open through the end of October.
Despite the drought, the markets will have plenty of produce, according to Floyd Blethen, director of the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Association and a farmer himself. "A lot of people have irrigation. Of course there is a cost involved, so there is a downside, but they have to have irrigation."
He noted there will be pumpkins, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, apples and pears. In addition there will be baked goods and canned goods.
Cider can be hard to find because "so many restrictions and regulations make it too costly for most, " said Blethen,
who added that the fruit was mostly from small orchards.
"We have a wide variety of vendors. They come from 125 miles around Leesburg, from the Shenandoah Valley, central Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Unlike Fairfax county, Loudoun markets do carry eggs and dairy products, as well as pork products and beef. "We also carry emu, the meat, as well as the oil and jerky," said Blethen.
"We have 30 vendors in Cascades, 20 in Leesburg, 12 in Sterling, 10 at Middleburg and six in Round Hill," Blethen said, noting that Cascades was the largest market and the only one on county property.
The sight of all that fresh and flavorful produce brings out an urge to cook. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is promoting the state's own Ginger Gold and Gala apples, offers this recipe.
<b>Apple Harvest Cake</b>
<i>4 cups apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
1 cup nuts
Dice apples and mix with sugar. Let stand one hour. Add remaining ingredients. Bake in a tube pan at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.</i>