Seattle’s Farmers Markets – May and June 2011

Yes Frank gave me this bag in exchange for publicity.

If you have been frequenting the Farmers Markets in Seattle all winter long, congratulations.  I try to make it to at least one market each week, just to keep abreast of the produce that is available, but during the winter it can be a lonely vigil.  After the first of January, the crowds thin down to a trickle and the vendor mix takes a decided turn toward the pre-produced (jams, pickles, bread, pasta) and the instantly edible (soup, stir fry, pizza, crepes) and away from fresh produce, meats and cheeses.  By February, mushrooms are long gone, the apples and pears are beginning to look a bit tired and new ideas for cooking winter squash are met with mixed reviews (acorn squash stuffed with quinoa, bacon and dried fruit was a surprising success with Sheila.  Southwest French-style roasted squash cake made from Sweet Dumpling squash, less so).  At least I can console myself with a dozen oysters from Taylor Shellfish at the University  and Ballard Markets.  Oysters, clams and mussels are all at their best during the short days of winter when “Everyday is a Muscadet” as the publicity posters from the Maine-et-Loire opine.

In March and April, I am beginning to think about Spring menus for the restaurants,  and am looking forward to peas, asparagus, spring morels, leeks, strawberries…  Unfortunately, all these are still months away.  And with winter produce gone as well, the farmer stalls begin to concentrate on cut flowers and plant starts.  At least the rhubarb is beginning to arrive along with a few radishes.  It is not really until late May that a significant variety of produce makes its way to the farmers markets.

My point is that it is easy to make shopping at the farmers markets part of my routine in the summer and fall months when farm tables are full to bursting and the mild weather invites outside activity.  It’s another to continue to make the trek all winter long, with the thinning choices and the constant Seattle drizzle.

The first few weeks of June have found me visiting the newly re-opened farmers markets as well as returning to my all-year favorites.  Here are some recent highlights:

University District, Saturday May 28:
It is clearly still early in the season and a cool start to the season to boot.  Mostly flowers and plant starts, but a few morels coming in, lettuces (hothouse?) and radishes.
Seabreeze Farms:  Big thick pork chops with a half inch of rich fat all around…kinda expensive but intense  pork flavor.  Save the fat for sausage making.
Cascadia Mushrooms:  Farmed shitake mushrooms, small, firm buttons, very nice and a good deal.
Cascadian Edible Landscapes:  Starters for my window boxes including chard, borage, flat leaf parsley and lettuces.

Central District Farmers Market, June 3:
This market at MLK Way and Union is only in its 3rd year, and seems to trend heavily toward crafts and prepared food.  Maybe it is just early in the season.
Wilson Fish: Meaty salmon and ling cod filets, “just off our own boat yesterday” which is really fresh as Mr. Wilson kept emphasizing.  Good prices and I am very happy to find a fish monger at the market selling fish that is not frozen, canned or smoked.
One Leaf Farm:  Baby oak leaf and butter lettuces, escarole (an under-appreciated green for salads and sauteing).
Full Circle Farms: Red and purple (yes purple) radishes.  Contrary to the claims of the vendor, the purple were every bit as spicy as the red, but that is a positive selling point for me.
Collins Family Farm
:  Nice fat asparagus and about $1 per # cheaper that the next stand over.   Actually, the woman in line in front of me wanted thin asparagus, and I wanted fat, so the vender broke open and  sorted 2 bunches on the fly.  Asparagus from the Northwest is among the best in the world in my opinion, even better than much of what I have had in France. Therefore, when  local asparagus is available, I think the only sensible course of action is to eat it every day, until it is gone for the season.    The California and Mexico imports that are available the rest of the year are not nearly as good and by next year I will be nursing a serious hankering for the local spears again.  PS the same goes for local strawberries.

As you may have noted above, when I shop the farmers markets, I shop for price as well as quality.  I know that good quality products costs more, I understand that, I’m note just advocating for cheapness (although during my time in France, a bit of notorious thriftiness of French chefs has rubbed off on me).   But at the same time, I find that there are often remarkable differences in pricing between even adjacent farm tables.  For example, at last Sunday’s Broadway  Farmers Market, one producer of grain-fed, range beef was selling tri-tip steaks for about $16/# and another nearby was selling the same cut for about $26/#.  I can’t say if there was a difference in quality because I opted for the $16 steaks, which, by the way, were very tasty…they were from Olsen Farms.  (Note if you are a calf liver fan, the beef liver from Olsen Farms is almost as mild and tender and a fraction of the price).    All I’m saying is it pays to check the quality and the price since there seems to be great fluctuations in  both at the the farmers markets.


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