By Donna Cornelius
Junior League of Birmingham’s Market Noel is a taste of the holiday season – and not just figuratively.
The annual fundraiser, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has plenty of shopping opportunities for those looking to buy gifts for others or treats for themselves. Among the most popular vendors are those featuring food.
Jennifer’s Kitchen’s green and black booth has been a fixture at Market Noel for several years. Owner Jennifer Lee will be returning with her popular pepper jellies to this year’s event, set for Nov. 30-Dec.3 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
“Markets like this are where I get to see people face to face, talk to my customers and see what they’ve created with my pepper jelly,” said Lee, who lives in Homewood. “You get hugs and hear people saying, ‘I served this to Aunt So-and-so,’ and ‘It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without your pepper jelly.’”
Market Noel is one of JLB’s top fundraisers and one that requires quite a bit of time and effort from the organization’s members. Julia Meyers is this year’s event chairwoman, and Sally McKay is the chairwoman-elect.
“There are eight people on the steering committee and about 60 on the total Market Noel committee,” Meyers said.
The market had been held at the Cahaba Grand since 2009 but this year has a new home at the BJCC.
“We’re really excited about that,” Meyers said. “We were bursting at the seams at the old location and weren’t able to add more merchants. This year, we’ll have 20 more.”
Vendors, who apply online to sell at the market, are carefully chosen.
“Many come year after year,” Meyers said. “Lots of Junior Leagues have these types of shows, and we’ve been lucky enough to have good word of mouth for our show. We had about 220 vendors apply and accept- ed about half. We try not to have duplications among our vendors.”
In addition to Jennifer’s Kitchen, other food-centric sellers at Market Noel will be Ala Carte Alice, Alabama Sweet Tea Company, All Natural Dips, BamaWise, Bare Naked Noodles, Country Kettle Fudge, Doux South Specialties, Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, Holiday Fried Pecans, Jose Madrid Salsa, KimsKandies, Made in the Deep South, Miss Ginny’s English Toffee, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Organically Yours, Stone Hollow Creamery, Treats So Sweet and Two Sisters Olive and Grape.
Jennifer Lee said most Market Noel shoppers buy a jar (or several) of pepper jelly for themselves and also purchase jellies for gifts. She’ll have lots of options for gift-giving, including a duo of her best sellers: Confetti, a traditional pepper jelly named by her daughter because, she said, it looks like “a party on a plate,” and Holiday, made with cran- berries and pecans. She said Confetti is No. 1 among her products for most of the year but gets booted from the top spot by Holiday during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Those two flavors also are used in her website’s most popular recipe: Pepper Jelly Cheesecake. Instructions for making the savory cheesecake (and other recipes) are on the company’s website, fromjenniferskitchen.com.
“We give bulk discounts that you can only get at the show,” Lee said.
Like other Market Noel food vendors, Jennifer’s Kitchen will serve samples so that customers can try before they buy.
“We have one girl who only handles samples,” she said. “We have samples of every jelly by itself and over cream cheese, and we have an oven where we bake the cheesecakes all day.”
Another food booth where shoppers are likely to gather is BamaWise, a grocery distributor that works mostly with Alabama vendors.
“We have cheese straws, chutneys, pickles, barbecue sauce and even perishables like cheeses and sausages,” owner Jeff Gentry said. “We help our vendors with packaging and ‘coach them up.’ At Market Noel, we’ll have plenty of food to sample, and we’ll also have gift trays.”
Meyers said this year’s event will include pop-up shops – vendors who set up just for one day of the event. Among these are Weezie’s Candy Emporium in Homewood, which
will be at Market Noel on Friday, and Honey Baby Bakery, which will be there Saturday. The Homewood bakery is owned by Elise Mayfield, a Birmingham native who appeared on Fox’s MasterChef TV series.
Special events will be a highlight of the fundraiser, Meyers said. Preview Noel from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Nov. 30 has private shopping, a silent auction and a new feature just for the guys.
“We’ve created a man cave with a bourbon toss,” Meyers said. “It’s like a ring toss, but you win bourbon. We also have a beer garden featuring Good People Brewing Co. beer and regional beers.”
Market Bliss, which will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 2, is a girls’ night out event, Meyers said. Tonya Jones Salon will have a beauty bar offering blowouts, manicures, pedicures and other services. Ticket holders also can enter to win a laser treatment package from Plastic Surgery Specialists, a monogram pendant from Diamonds Direct and other prizes.
Rock the Runway – Couture for a Cause starts at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 3. Lily Pulitzer teams up with Market Noel to host a fashion show with JLB board members and their children modeling in a “Mommy and Me” segment. Another segment, which Meyers said highlights Magic Moments, will have teen models wearing clothes from Market Noel vendors. Designer Heidi Elnora will emcee the entire show.
While Market Noel offers plenty of fun, Meyers doesn’t want those who attend to forget that they’re supporting great causes. JLB has about 2,500 members who work year-round to benefit their community.
“I think people in Birmingham know about Junior League but may not know what we do,” she said.
So that people find out more about the organization, Market Noel will have a special area where members can share information and answer questions about JLB. The organization’s Yummy Truck, a mobile teaching kitchen, also will be on site. The truck goes to Birmingham schools and is manned by volunteers who make easy, healthy recipes.
For Market Noel hours and to buy tickets to the show and to special events, visit marketnoel.com. Tickets also will be available at the door.