The gradual turn of the season is most deliciously evident at the farmers' markets, of which I enjoy the Friday market held at Monterey Peninsula College's lower parking lot the most. It's large, varied and easy as pie to access by car or bicycle.
Since the market moved from Thursdays at 3 PM to Fridays at 10 AM, we have been eager to make the trip to the market a weekly must-do trip.
Today, a day that signaled the beginning of a heat wave coming on, we took our bags and headed over. Ahmed at the Zena Mediterranean Foods stall said hello with his big smile. Ramadan is over now, his little son is the apple of his eye, and his booth is very busy with curious buyers. I can't tell you how hooked I am on his basil hummus. It's embarrassing.
Farmers are now selling the last of their crops of pluots, peaches, nectarines and plums. Most of them offer small sample bites to help you select the exact variety you'd like. My favorites this year are Flavor Grenades, an appropriately named pluot that starts a flavor riot in your mouth. Wow.
I sampled almonds, walnuts, and dried apricots, which are tangy and dark orange. I promised the apricot lady my favorite recipe for Apricot Butter Bars, which she was thrilled about. It's a killer recipe.
We've found a favorite vendor for tomatillos, tomatoes and squash, a little old couple who add up purchases with pencil and paper, carefully bagging your goods and charging very fair prices. Although competition is keen between booths, and selection is wonderful, we do develop favorites. One farmer offers crimini, white and porcini mushrooms. Another has baskets of berries, but I wasn't in the mood for them; I felt more inclined to eat other fruit instead. Stone fruit offer great flavor out of hand, tangy zest or quiet sweet flavor. I will be sad to see the last of them, and the season is nearly ended.
Apples are beginning to show up in greater numbers, a sure sign that fall is upon us. Pumpkins and other winter squash are colorful and at least fun to photograph if not eat just yet. Crops such as golden beets like those you see here are gradually replacing tender greens and short-season speciality vegetables.
Last of all, I bought some ultra fresh sea bass that we enjoyed for dinner tonight, probably the best I've ever eaten, caught the night before out on the bay. That, plus Corralitos Meats' German sausages and a dozen eggs at a third booth, and our protein was ready to take home.
Sometimes I can't resist flowers, and other times baked goods halt me in my tracks, but the fact that I can shop all the way down the row and back and be forced to pick and choose is very encouraging. The market has certainly grown. People are embracing the opportunity to buy organic, locally grown, fresh and varied produce. Farmers are able to make a go of it in the tough world of agriculture, meet their buyers face to face, and add a dimension of community and trust that's lacking in regular supermarkets.
I brought home a variety of kale I haven't tasted before. Next week, who knows what new crop will arrive, what will be missing. The point is, the market responds to the season, and keeps me in touch with it in a uniquely sensual way.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way