Roses, mini carnations, succulents. Geraniums lined one side of the greenhouse and giant pots of pure white calla lilies lined the other. Old-fashioned lamps and lights hung from the ceiling and tantalizing aromas wafted from the the tables set up for the many vendors that filled the space with their homemade goods. It was a chilly day in March, but the greenhouse was warm and inviting.
I arrived at Bangor’s European Market at 117 Buck St. around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and it was already in full swing. Customers milled about, taking bites of the many samples put out for them to try. Soft, salty pretzels and homemade rye sourdough from Jenny Johnson of Pebble Stone Farm in Newburgh; homemade beet hummus and tabbouleh from Steve Sleeper’s mediterranean food stand; sweet, sticky baklava from Panteli’s Greek Cuisine; chilaquiles from Las Dos Hermanas Catering.
This adventure was one suggested to me by Ann Holland Faulkner Sherman who read one of my first posts about making myself at home here in Bangor. Bangor is rather new to me. I moved here about ten months ago from a small town in Aroostook County and I’m trying to make this place feel a bit more like home. I’ve challenged myself to try something new once every week to discover all that Bangor has to offer a twenty-something like me. Last week I brought you posts about Pulitzer Prize winners visiting the Bangor Public Library and Pro Libris Bookshop, which is right around the corner from Bangor’s European Market.
Ingrid Perkins and Rick Gilbert founded the market twenty years ago, and as Gilbert said, he’s not sure “where the time has gone.” The market is nestled between Perkins’ German gift shop, which offers german cookies and coffees and anything else one could dream of, and Gilbert’s Sunnyside Greenhouse, both of which are open for business during the market’s hours.
Perkins came to the United States from Germany in the ’60s and wanted to bring a taste of her home country here.
“I went to Budapest one time and was so amazed by the markets,” Perkins said. She was aiming for an open air feel with a variety of vendors representing countries in Europe and beyond.
“We wanted to offer something different,” she said.
I never knew that Bangor was home to so much culture until I stepped inside the market and had conversations with some of the vendors. Many of them have been participating for years, and some, like Elizabeth Kalogeris, also known as Betty, of Panteli’s Greek Cuisine, have been around since its inception.
Kalogeris participates in the market for a simple and heartfelt reason: “I do this to honor him,” she said of her late husband, Leo, who also was known as Panteli. “It’s my motivation.”
Leo was a Greek chef and Kalogeris joked that he never let her cook anything — but it’s funny how a person’s influence is realized after they’re gone.
“I never realized how much I learned just being around him,” Kalogeris said. Her signature dish is baklava. At gatherings in her previous hometown of Lynn, Massachussetts, the Greek women there gave her what she considers the highest compliment for the sweet, sticky pastry.
“For not being a Greek girl you make the best baklava,” Kalogeris said, imitating their accent and finishing the reminiscence with a laugh. Kalogeris makes everything at her stand, from the baklava to spanakopita, a tantalizing combination of spinach, scallions, dill, eggs, unsalted butter, feta and phyllo dough, and karidopita, also known as Greek walnut cake.
For Kalogeris, the market is the social event of the week, and she’s not the only one who has a community of friends at the market.
Bob Bowen of Sunset Acres Farm and Dairy in Brooksville doesn’t offer European flavor and flair, but he does offer hugs.
“Come here,” Bowen said to one of his regulars, who he said “makes the trip here just for the hugs.” Bowen is a kind man who worked for 30 years in sales, but took on the farm life 26 years ago. He’s one of the market’s original vendors and has been coming almost every weekend since it began 20 years ago.
Bowen offers fresh Maine meats from various Maine farms and goat cheese made from the milk of the 120 goats on his farm.
“Originally I was thinking I was gonna get rich quick,” Bowen said with a chuckle. “I thought, ‘oh, Bangor, that should be a gold mine.’”
He didn’t get rich quick, but he did make many friends, and he said that this market is the most consistent of all those he has attended over the years, and important for maintaining a loyal customer base.
“If I was ever going to retire, I would just do this farmer’s market,” Bowen said.
Steve Sleeper has built a following with his mediterranean food stand as well.
“They’re mostly my grandmother’s recipes,” Sleeper said. “She came from Lebanon 100 years ago.”
From grape leaves and cabbage rolls to tabbouleh and Lebanese almond fingers made with almonds, phyllo dough, butter, sugar, orange blossom water and lemon, Sleeper has quite a selection, and is always trying to come up with something new to offer, like the homemade beet hummus that was on his stand when I visited.
“These were the staples I grew up eating,” he said.
The market is small, but the conversations had between people there were conversations between friends. The vendors were all friendly and happy to tell me about their food, the recipes and themselves.
As I left the greenhouse, I heard Rick Gilbert laugh. He offered a rose to a passerby from his flower stand. For only five dollars you can get ten roses.
“Five dollars will buy you happiness, right here,” he said.