A Visit To Renninger’s Flea Market In Pennsylvania & Short Ribs Braised in Smokey Sauce with Fennel (serves 6)

I went to an oddly curious and interesting place this past Saturday Morning: A Flea Market/Farmer’s Market in Berks county, Pennsylvania Called Renninger’s Antique and Farmer’s Market. It has been around since 1955 and by the looks of things, hasn’t changed much since.

Unctous Short Ribs

Unctuous Short Ribs from Meat purchased at Dietrich’s Country Meat’s at Renninger’s

This Market is in Mennonite country in Pennsylvania where black covered buggies drawn by horses carrying women in bonnets and flowery dresses and men in black hats and suspenders are a common sight.

Renniger's Market

Renninger’s Market: a strange Farmer’s and Antique Market

What’s a Mennonite? – In brief, the Mennonites are a branch of the Christian church, which sprung from the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Their name is taken from Menno Simons, a Dutch convert priest who was at the forefront of the movement in Holland. A Swiss German branch came to North America  (settling first in Pennsylvania) in the 18th century. Although they speak english they mainly communicate in a low german dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch. 

Hex Sign

Hex Sign on the front of the barn at Renninger’s Market (Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art which began to appear on barns in the mid 19th century – they can be seen as purely decorative or as having a sort of Talisman against bad luck, invoking good health and prosperity.

The Mennonite Christian philosophy is one of pacifism and living simply, but they also believe in embracing the broader community choosing to be part of the larger non-Mennonite population. The Farmer’s market in Renniger’s is filled with food stalls selling everything from Femur Bones to donuts, and a good portion of the food vendors are Mennonites.

A long glass cabinet full of pennsylvania meats

A long glass cabinet full of Pennsylvania meats

Renniger’s began as a Farmer’s market in the 1950’s but in the mid ’70’s the market extended into a place where antique dealers could have permanent spots inside the big L-shaped building, and weather permitting, dealers could set up outside the building to sell their wares on rented tables or from the back of their vans as the case may be. There is a huge Antique Market known as The Extravaganza three times a year and it is a great place to find anything from a modern era chair to a stuffed grizzly bear (in other words, from the cool to the shall we say, less-cool).

Outside Flea Market at Renniger's

Outside Flea Market at Renninger’s

When you walk into the market, the first thing you pass is a busy barber shop beside a guy selling tomb stones (really). Then there is a stall with fresh bread, beside a vendor selling mountains of sweets and candies. Opposite is Dietrich’s Country Meats and this is where I purchased the short ribs for our delicious dinner last night.

Dietrich's Country Meats

Dietrich’s Country Meats (The register is like a giant cash box that never closes, the help preferring to add up money on the paper your meat is being wrapped in).

Dietrich’s have been butchers for 3 generations and their display case was filled with things from mouth-watering cuts of meat like steak and thick-cut pork chops to other items that might be hard to stomach first thing in the morning: stacks of femur bones, pig’s tongue, kidneys, brains, tripe, gizzards, pig snouts and containers of smoked pigs ears.

Cow's Tongue

Cow’s Tongue

They have a shop a few miles away and boost a  “Selection of Freshly Cut Beef, Pork & Lamb Slaughtered right on the Premises!” This was definitely a “nose to Tail” operation and where Dean, one of the grandchildren was more than happy to give me a sample of cooked cow’s tongue (tasted like really strong roast beef), and instruct me on how to cook a raw tongue dish (very important to boil the tongue first and pull off the lining before carrying on – gulp!).

My package from dietrich's Meats

My package from Dietrich’s Meats

I bought a selection of meat which was handed to me in a neatly wrapped bundle and moved on to see what else was of interest. I bought a few vegetables and then made my way down an aisle where a hotchpotch of booth sellers peddled fabrics, tools, old collectible toys, vintage clothing, dusty taxidermy animals, antique furniture, and a hoard of other items, all of it looking like a dizzying pile of confusion in my mind by the time I got to the door that led to the outside stalls.

An Aisle at renniger's Market

An Aisle at Renninger’s Market

It was the same scene outside only bigger! I did manage to find a funny little cookbook printed by a corner grocery store called an A & P from the early 20th century. Since places like this compel you to but something I decided this was the memento to take home to remember my morning here at Renninger’s Antique’s and Farmer’s market this past Saturday.

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen)

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen).

The short ribs were a big hit, and now the only thing left to tackle is the pork tongue I bought in a moment of bravery.

Gee - and he looks like such a harmless old man

Gee – and he looks like such a harmless old man?


Short Ribs Braised in smokey Sauce with Fennel (serves 6)

You will need:

Short Ribs

Short Ribs

3 lbs beef short-ribs cut into 4 to 5″ pieces

4 tbs vegetable or olive oil

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper (for seasoning meat and to taste)

1 sweet onion, large dice or sliced

1 large fennel bulb, sliced (Bulb only)

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups baby carrots, left whole

2 sprigs rosemary cut in half

1/2 tbs smoked paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)

2 tbs all-purpose flour

1 cup tomato puree

1 cup red wine

3 cups chicken or veggie stock (or 3 cups water with 1 good quality veggie or chicken bouillon cube)


Preheat oven 375*

1 – Season meat generously with sea-salt and pepper. Put large saute pan on high heat and add 2 tbs of oil. When it is hot, add a single layer of ribs to pan and sear until browned on both sides. Transfer to a heavy casserole pot or dutch oven (large enough to hold entire dish).

sear ribs

sear ribs

2 – Pour off grease and add a little olive oil to pan (about 1 tbs) and turn heat down to medium. Add the onions, garlic, rosemary and fennel and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.


 Saute onions, garlic, fennel and rosemary

3 – Add the carrots and continue to cook for another 2 or so minutes.

Add carrots

Add carrots

4 – Add the spices and stir (also add the bouillon cube if using instead of broth). Next add the flour and stir until everything is coated.

Add spices and flour

Add spices and flour

5 – Add the tomatoes puree and wine and stir. The mixture will thicken. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Add liquids

Add liquids

5 – Add the remaining liquid and turn the heat up. Let it come to a boil (stirring every now and then). turn off heat and pour over the ribs in the casserole. Cover with lid and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove and check by inserting a knife into the ribs. If it goes through very easily, it is done. If not, return to oven checking every 10 minutes. Let pot sit for 10 minutes when you remove from oven.

Cook for 2 hours

Cook for 2 hours

Serve with anything you like: rice, boiled potatoes, greens, bread, sautéed greens or have on its own.

I served the short ribs with sauteed spinach adn basmati rice

I served the short ribs with sautéed spinach and basmati rice (fabulous bowl by my friends Mike and Naomi of Bandana Pottery)

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