What You Missed at the Market

About my absence: I am just swamped at work and it’s keeping me from doing much else. I’m not even cooking…Chimp has been keeping us fed.

Saturday was the first sweaterday at the market since the spring. It sure was nice.

I picked up some of these beans from John of Flower Garden of Madera. He said they’re three different types – I need to shell them still to find out what I’ve got.

I got a pint of jalapenos from Michele, thinking Chimp would certainly find something to do with them. He loves cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, garlic and salt buzzed together into a fresh seasoning, as do I.

I also picked up another eggplant! I’ve been making this dal recipe that’s just been great – one more try and I think I’ll have it perfected.


What You Missed at the Market

Summer’s definitely starting to come to a close. The peaches and nectarines are seeing their last days; there are still plenty of plums, of course.

There are still grapes, too, and will be well into the fall. Fred Smeds of Savage Island brought the above Concord grape juice today. He says he likes it even better than the cherry juice his wife Paula also makes from their fruit. Having had both, I said it’d be hard to beat the cherry juice in my mind.

“The grape juice is good for everything, though,” he said.

“What, you mean like vodka…rum…” I raised an eyebrow.

“No, no, I mean good-for-you good for everything.”

“Ah, you mean like anthocyanins and resveratrol.”


“I bet it’s still good with vodka, though.”

I was telling Fred another one of my inane stories while I was picking out what will probably be my last Rose Concord grapes of the season, (one month with Rose Concord grapes…11 months without, sigh) that since I learned a few years ago that the grape industry term for the percentage of loose berries that fall off the bunch is “shatter,” whenever I pull grapes out of the bag and see the stragglers down at the bottom I hear Mick Jagger singing the Rolling Stones’ tribute to NYC.

The onions are starting to wane a little bit. Michele of K.M.K. brought purple and white last week, and this week, just white. Pretty soon I’ll have to turn back to supermarket onions – always a sad moment. The garlic’s going great as fall is coming on, though – I picked up more from Vine Ripe’s booth again this morning.

There are lots of peppers to choose from. I picked up these pasilla peppers from Angel Farms and some green peppers from K.M.K.

Also got some of these San Marzano-type tomatoes from Michele – these are great for skewering or cutting in half and roasting, as she suggests.

I talked to John of Flower Garden of Madera and he said he’d have some black-eyed peas in pods next week. Very exciting news to me! He said he mostly grows them for soil fertility – leguminous crops, are, of course, good for fixing nitrogen in the soil.

I took home some figs from Marchini Sisters for another fig sauce experiment. It’ll make it to the blog if it turns out.

Also grabbed some cucumbers from Il Giardino Organico for one of my customary cucumber-radish-onion-chickpea salads with the fall radishes that came in our box this week.

And I bought some eggplant, would you believe?

Last week when I had that eggplant in my CSA box I made something that turned out really well and I thought I’d try to improve on it a little bit before putting it to the blog. I picked up some of these white ones from Michelle to challenge myself. Will this be the eggplant revelation I’ve been looking for all these years? We’ll see. If it doesn’t turn out to be, Vachte from Cracked Pepper promises me that his Eggplant Napoleon will change my mind….worth a try.

What You Missed at the Market

More late summer bounty today. There are still lots of tomatoes and peppers on offer. Michele of K.M.K. brought some green ones this week after I asked after them last week. I’m looking forward to some fried green tomatoes.

I picked up some of these gold ones from Il Giardino Organico for a change of pace.

Eggplant too, aplenty. It’s one of the prettiest vegetables; I should really try harder to like it.

These were on K.M.K. Farms’ table. Michele also has an all-white one that she often gets asked about while I’m standing there picking out my whatever. She describes it as having a mushroom-like flavor. Every time I hear that I think, “Ah, a vegetable I don’t like very well with the flavor of another vegetable I’m not particularly fond of.” But I should just buy some and try it – be open-minded about it. Maybe it’ll be the eggplant epiphany I didn’t know I’d been waiting for.

Moa’s Farm had bitter melon – it’s the bumpy looking vegetable in the middle. That’s another thing I should undertake one of these days – I have tons of recipes for it in my copious selection of Indian cookbooks – I should buy a couple and try out a recipe for it that sounds good.

What You Missed at the Market

You’d never know it from the weather – it’s still plenty hot – but the crops tell the story of the season beginning to change. We’ve made it through the worst of the Fresno summer – and it was, honestly, pretty temperate this year, for Fresno, at least. We’ll still have plenty more days over 100, for sure, but the 105 and 108 highs are likely behind us.

We received our first apples of the season in our CSA box on Wednesday – Gravensteins – and on Saturday, Al Pergorsh was back at the Vineyard market with the first apples of the season.

I snapped this picture quickly; I didn’t want to have to ask. I’ve tried to make conversation with Al a couple of times, and he’s never seemed very interested in chatting with me. His apples are good, though.

The start of apple season always makes me a little sad. The summer crops go so fast – when apples appear, it means time is starting to run out on peaches, nectarines and plums. There’ll be stone fruit into October, hopefully – the season is running earlier this year. It was pretty similarly early in terms of timing in 2004, and that year, the crop pretty well wrapped up in September. I don’t want that to happen, but it might, so I’m warning all of you: if you want to eat stone fruit, do it now.

No matter how much stone fruit I eat, when we get to the end of the season, I kick myself for not having eaten more, even though I’d pretty much have to stop eating meals altogether to eat more stone fruit.

But let’s not be overrun by melancholy, as pleasant as that might be; there’s plenty of summer food left to enjoy, like these Flavor Gold pluots from Vince Iwo.

Let me make a quick public service announcement for odd colors of plums – yellow and green plums are just as sweet when they’re ripe as red and black ones. These Flavor Golds are great, and there’s a green variety of plum just finishing up right now called Emerald Beaut that I absolutely adore.

Speaking of green, Michele of K.M.K. brought beautiful frog skin melons – also called a camouflage melon…but I’ll go with frog skin. I haven’t cut it open yet, but it’s apparently a light greenish-yellow inside.

Late summer means the San Marzano-type tomatoes are coming on. These were at Il Giardino Organico’s booth, but Marchini Sisters have them too. These are meant for making sauce, but their meaty, less-juicy nature makes them excellent for skewering and grilling or broiling.

And speaking of fall, John Warner of Flower Garden of Madera and Whole Systems Ag brought the first potatoes of the season.

These are Peruvian Blue, but he also had a Fingerling type and some little tapered ones called Swedish Peanut, plus some others I’m probably forgetting. I have a total potato problem; I had to stop myself at just the blue and “peanut” types – I know I’ll get more in the coming weeks.

After I got back and put everything away, I made a little lunch for me and Chimp – I sliced up a couple of curved squash – I forget the variety – from Il Giardino Organico. I turned them into a simple meal of fried zucchini planks with a parsley and feta topping.

Fig Fest Favorites

When I was getting ready to go to the market and to Fig Fest on Saturday, I thought to myself, “I’ll just eat a little breakfast. I don’t want to be totally not hungry when I get there.” So I made myself my regular amount of oatmeal and ate about half of it, figuring (heh!) I was leaving room for figs.

Boy, did that come back to bite me. I had worried that maybe there wouldn’t be that many things for me to eat as an herbivore, but that certainly wasn’t a problem. There were plenty of things for a vegetarian to eat – and you’ll see my favorites below – but most of my favorites were sweets. By 10 a.m., I had such a sugar rush on that my head felt like it was vibrating. I wished I’d had more oatmeal.

Here’s the scene, at 9 a.m., pre-event: an enormous tent, matched by a similarly enormous line out front. A few people are clearly chomping at the bit, calling out “Open the gate!” I walked down one side of the tent outside to get the lay of the land (read: see where the best-looking snacks were) before getting in line. Following are my favorites of the day, in no particular order. Keep in mind that admission to this event was only $5.
Five dollars! Seriously!
And look at what there was to choose from, from some of the best restaurants in the area:

Bistro Rustico’s Grilled Fig and Candied Lemon Truffles

To be fair, I took this picture by sneaking into the tent before the event opened. I hadn’t paid for my wristband yet, so I didn’t take a truffle. And after that I never could manage to fight my way back to Bistro Rustico’s table to get one of these. However, I’ve had so many things made by Varouj that I’ve enjoyed that I’m going to put this among the favorites just on the concept.

Pangea’s Crostata with Honey-Mascarpone Cream, Sliced Almonds and Fresh Figs

The cream is a cream cheese/sour cream mixture with honey; it was appropriately sweet to match with the figs, but not so much so as to be cloying. The almonds were toasted and perfectly crisp and the pastry was light and sweet-cracker like.

Cracked Pepper’s Chocolate Fig Terrine with Port Wine

This was a bad thing to eat first thing in the morning, but oh, it was wonderful. The sweet, grainy figs were perfect with the chocolate and the port. On my first bite, I said to Vachte, “Is this basically a slice of ganache I’m eating?”

“Yes,” he replied.

You can’t go wrong with chocolate and cream.

Vachte also brought along his fig baklava, which I also enjoyed, and fig-glazed chicken wings, which looked beautiful. Market manager Felix told me later she absolutely loved the latter, but of course, I had to take a pass. Wonder if I could wheedle the recipe out of him to try the glaze on fried tofu?

Trelio Restaurant’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream with Fig Syrup, Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Mint

When Mike Shackleford from Trelio came to do the Chefs at the Market event, he did a salad that had chocolate mint in it. I thought it was inspired. I grew chocolate mint a couple years ago, and I had the toughest time finding ways to use it. I decided not to grow it again, but Mike might have changed my mind now. This was a mixed-milk ice cream, cow and goat. The fig syrup threw me at first – looking at it, I thought it was caramel, but of course, this is the Fig Fest, and it had much more depth than a plain old caramel.

The Chef’s Table’s Marinated Chinese Long Bean and Dried Fig Salad with Toasted Almonds and Olive Vinaigrette

I was delighted to see the matchups that the different chefs had chosen for the fig. This was one of a handful of savory dishes that got me thinking about how I could make more use of figs. The nicoise olive dressing was out of this world – I’m not sure I fully appreciated it after the copious dose of sugar I’d just ingested (did I mention I ate too much sugar?) but it was wonderful.

Elderberry House’s Linzer Cookies with Elderberry-Fig Jam

This was the lightest, most delicate melt-in-your-mouth cookie I’ve had in ages. It took ages to get to the Elderberry House table – everybody else was trying to do the same thing. I’ll admit, when I got there, I momentarily thought, “Just cookies?” but their simplicity was perfect and well-exceeded by their excellence.

The Vintage Press’s Fig Salad with Arugula & Balsamic Syrup and Goat Cheese Crostini

This little salad with a goat cheese crostini was a savory relief after all the sweets. The balsamic syrup was another excellent match to the figs. As with Pangea’s honey cream, the Vintage Press had managed to match the figs’ level of sweetness without the dressing veering into overload.

After I’d made my rounds of the tent, I was chatting with Shelby of Lone Willow Ranch (they grow tomatoes, she told me, and that’s an enormous understatement) when Tom Willey of TD Willey Farms took the stage to introduce Alice Waters.

Fresno had really made a showing for Alice. The parking lot was packed, the market was packed, the Fig Fest tent was packed. I was able to grab a seat to listen, though.

Alice began by saying that she’d known Tom for decades, and for years he’d been inviting her to come down to the Valley. The combination of how far it was and how hot it was had kept her away for a number of years, she’d said. But she’d braved the highway and the heat – and was glad she had.

She was very complimentary of the market – products to equal of those she’d seen anywhere, she said – and the market’s pavilion, with its high arch and grapevine cover. She launched into her passions: she talked about the benefit of human connection with the people who grow our food and fairly valuing that, as well as the necessity of teaching children to enjoy good food, and the ease of doing so by involving them in it directly, like her Edible Schoolyard work. By the end of her brief talk, I had tears in my eyes; I’m passionate about working to get the world eating better food too. Of course, it could have been all that sugar throwing me off the deep end. Did I mention I ate too much sugar?

After Alice, I stopped back at the Slow Food Madera table to talk to Shelby again and write a check for my membership. Then I headed back down to the market entrance to show Michele the pictures I’d taken of Alice. While I was standing there at the booth, Felix came walking toward me purposefully. She was clearly looking for me for some reason. Why, I thought?

“I’m so glad I found you. Someone just came up to me and said they have two extra tickets for the Fig Dinner and asked if I knew anyone who wanted them.”

Once I got done having Felix assure me she was serious, I squealed, hugged her, and jumped up and down for the second time that morning, then ran to my car to get my checkbook.

I was going to be able to keep the promise I made to myself last summer on my birthday, the day of the Fig Fest and the Fig Dinner, when I’d been to the market for the briefest of moments and was back home lying in bed, exhausted from that brief exertion to the degree that I was too sick to sit up. I was going to get to the Fig Dinner next year, I promised myself, and it turned out that I was going to get to the Fig Dinner after all.

What You Missed at the Market

Wow – what a day. The parking lot was already totally packed by the time I arrived a little before 9 a.m. I took a chance and swung into the row nearest the market pavilion, hoping to get lucky, and got my regular spot right near the entrance, despite the crowd. I got situated and got out of the car, camera in hand, money in one pocket, list in another, and as I locked the car and dropped my keys in my pocket, I noticed that two cars had pulled into the row while I’d been getting myself together.

Both of them were sitting in the aisle, engines running, waiting for someone to leave so they could grab a space. Sure, I’d just gotten an awesome spot (and by the time I left I was glad I was parked so close), but I did have the thought So you’re sitting in the farmers’ market parking lot with your engine running. Must be having trouble deciding whether to decrease or increase your carbon footprint.

I was so distracted by the long line forming at the Fig Fest tent – and wanting to get into it myself – that I hardly took any pictures. I did swing by the Organic Pastures table and congratulate Mark, et al, on their appearance in the New York Times.

I bought what I would characterize as a “Value Sized” bunch of parsley from Michele at K.M.K.; it was about a metric ton of the stuff, which is fine with me – I have previously been accused of applying as if it itself was a vegetable, so I thought the quantity was about right. Tabbouli on the way!

I also captured these white peaches on K.M.K Farms’ table, which seemed to be glowing as if lit from within.

Fred Smeds caught my eye and gestured to me as I was approaching the Savage Island table. He extened his hand and pointed downward, and there they were:

Rose Concord grapes.

I confess, I actually squealed, jumped in the air a couple times and clapped my hands. A couple other people picking out grapes turned and stared. Shifting back from twelve to thirty-one year-old mode, I regained my composure, saying, “It’s good to be so pleased by the little things in life, isn’t it? Makes being happier easier,” as I popped one of the sweet, floral-scented berries into my mouth and loaded a couple bunches of its mates into a bag.

These are my favorite grape, by far, and I only found out about them this time last year. They’re soft and a little bit pulpy, in the way that Concords are, but they don’t slip their skins. They taste plummy, honey-inflected, and flower-like – they remind me of pulling the tops off of clover blossoms and sucking the nectar out of them as a kid. Their skins have just the faintest bit of winey muskiness, too, a powdery bloom that looks like the lightest dusting of powdered sugar imaginable, and only a fraction of the tartness of a regular Concord’s skin.

In short, I wish I could send a couple of big bunches to everyone I know. And if you’re in town, seriously, you must make time to visit Fred and Paula soon.

So then I headed off to make my way to the highlight of the day: the Fig Fest tent. That post coming as soon as I sort through the huge number of pictures I took.

What You Missed at the Market

A very social day at the market today.

First I got hassled by local television personality Kopi Sotiropolous, who was there in full Grecian regalia, passing out flyers for the Greek Festival.

Then I ran into my photographer friend Keith of Camerad. While he takes pictures of a great many things, I’ve only had the pleasure of working with him on food photography, of which he is a master. He’s also a good cook, and was getting ready to make dinner for some friends that night, including chicken with olives and preserved lemons (which he had preserved himself).

Finally I hassled Felix, the market manager, to see if there was any possibility of getting tickets for the Fig Dinner. I had planned to, and then when they were released, I didn’t jump right away, and by the time I came in a few days later, they were gone.

I had promised myself last year, when the Fig Dinner was on my birthday and I was flat on my back in bed with a bad CFS relapse for most of August, that I would not miss the Fig Dinner the next summer. And alas, it appears I will do so. The Chef’s Table is only so big, and the folks coming in from Slow Food USA and Kentucky took up a big chunk of the tickets.

Next year I will really be on the ball. (And hopefully not flat on my back again.)

As for what’s available at the market, we’ve reached that point in the season where you have to start making hard decisions. You can’t possibly eat some of everything by the end of the week. So where do you cast your affections? Stone fruit, grapes, or melons? Tomatoes, eggplant, squash, green beans, corn, or peppers?

Grapes are in, for sure and proper. Three Sisters had Thompsons and Red Flames; Fred Smeds of Savage Island had Seedless Concords, pictured here.

These are sweet and just the tiniest bit musky; they don’t slip out of their skins the way seeded Concords I’ve had do. They’re a little bit less astringent than regular Concords as well.