By the time the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Cockeysville opens at 8 a.m., Moses Riehl, his wife, four children, mother-in-law and four sisters have already been up for hours.
Since the extended Amish family drives a horse and buggy around its hometown of Compass, Pa., a van driver picked them up at 4 a.m. for the 65-mile trip to Cockeysville.
Once inside the cavernous building on York Road that was home to a Metro Food Market, everybody scatters.
Riehl's wife, Erma, their 18-year-old daughter, Rosa, and Erma's mother, Anna Mary Lapp, go to Aunt Erma's Baked Goods. They know what their first chore is today.
It's slicing peaches — five baskets brimming with ripe peaches they bought at a farm market in Bird-in-Hand, Pa.
"Peaches are always a big hit," says Lapp as she cuts each peach in half, peels it and slices it up in a precise, steady manner. "Today we'll make peach pies, peach turnovers, peach shortcake and peach dessert bars. They should all sell. People love their peaches."
Three generations work side-by-side with little talking. All wear long dresses covered with aprons. Lapp wears a scarf over her hair that's tied under her chin while both Riehls wear the traditional Amish white cap.
While they peel and slice, another half-dozen similarly dressed women slide large metal trays of cookies, turnovers, rolls and pies into ovens.
The air is filled with the aroma of cooking pastries and the shrill beeping of oven timers.
A few women work at a long stainless steel table, cutting hunks of dough off a glistening mound that was mixed up this morning.
"They're making dinner rolls," says Moses Riehl as he places warm cookies on plastic trays and covers them with plastic. "Customers love our dinner rolls and our bread, but our specialty is our pumpkin rolls."
Riehl walks along the rows of vendors, making sure everything is moving smoothly before the market opens.
He and Sylvan Blank, who owns Lancaster County Soft Pretzels, manage 17 vendors who are open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The markets moved from Westminster to Cockeysville in September 2004 when their lease was up and property managers wanted businesses that were open seven days a week.
Just like the Riehls' bakery, Blank's pretzel business is all about family. Blank's two sons and his wife, Naomi, help make 500 pretzels from scratch each day that they'll hand-twist before cooking.
Across the aisle, Allen Stoltzfus threads chickens, hams, potatoes and roast beef onto skewers that rotate in several glass-front ovens.
"See that, the chicken drippings help make the potatoes taste great and they don't get dried out," he says, pointing to the alternating rows of chickens and potatoes.
His best sellers are chicken wings in five flavors and piping hot barbecued ribs. Stoltzfus starts cooking at 5:30 a.m. in order to have hot food for the first customers.
'Clean and homey'
It's only 7:45 a.m. when Riehl opens up the market after noticing two women waiting out front.
"We're always here first and they always open the doors for us early," said Tira Lesane. She and Geraldine Murry work at Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore and often drive to Cockeysville when their shift is over at 7 a.m.
They buy some coleslaw at Welsh Mountain Deli where several of Moses Riehl's sisters work, and pick out a few of the 1,500 doughnuts being made today by Linda Lapp and Willie Fisher of Paradise, Pa.
By 9:30 a.m., the stores are buzzing with customers. Maggie Hudson of Sparks says she shops at the markets every single Saturday for meats, cheeses, pretzels and doughnut holes.
"They call me the doughnut hole lady when they see me," she says after leaving the doughnut counter. "I clean them out of doughnut holes every week."
Hudson says she shopped at the Amish markets when they were in Westminster years ago and was thrilled to find them right down the street when she moved to Sparks.
"This place is very clean and homey and everybody who works here is as nice as they can be," she says. "They have quality products at a good price."
To learn more about Pennsylvania Dutch Market, go to http://www.padutchmarket.com. It is located at 11121 York Road, Cockeysville, next to Valley View Farms.