I am delighted to welcome my friend Cairn Rodrigues to the blog today. We got talking across the pond and decided to do a market swap. Today Cairn is giving us an insight into a fabulous farmers market in Sacramento, California.
California has many well-known icons such as the Hollywood sign and the Golden Gate Bridge, but our food is just as well-known world-wide. Where I live in the sprawling Central Valley, farming is a year round business and our Certified Farmer’s Market is open every Sunday, rain or shine. Tucked neatly beneath another icon of California, the freeway overpass, is the best fresh air market in the Sacramento. This city is the capital of California, chosen because it sits right in the middle of our big state and is the crossroads for commerce. Every week, farmers and ranchers from all over the valley and points beyond converge in the dim to offer fresh produce along with an inviting array of artisanal foods. Even though February has barely begun, the stalls are piled high with citrus fruits, lettuces, pomegranates and even tomatoes. Most of the goods offered are organically grown by small family farms and they are always happy to give samples, recipes and education about new things. For instance, fingered citron is a new fruit on the scene and still a little pricey at five dollars a pound. Also known as Buddha’s hand, the fruit has a delicate flavour, but the abundant zest is a delightful departure from orange and lemon.
The pomeloes were very inviting as well, although they were fighting for attention with neighboring blood oranges. These thick skinned fruits have a delicate flavour like grapefruit but without the bitterness and make a delicious marmalade. Navel oranges are abundant at the market too, but those grow freely on backyard trees along with lemons, so are easy to pass by in the stalls. One of my favorite destinations at the Sunday market is the plant stall run by Cecilia Ayson of the Ayson Nursery in Lodi, Ca. She is a lively, smiling lady and always has the healthiest live plants around, every year I get my pepper and tomato seedlings from Ayson as well as decorative plants. Today the primrose and cyclamen were ready and Cecilia promised eggplants seedlings soon, along with a host of fresh herbs for planting. I personally cannot wait. There is so much more than fresh produce to be had though; Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co. was offering delectable Gouda recently, the red pepper Gouda was creamy with a tinge of heat. Massa Organics had a stall featuring brown rice – our area is laden with rice paddies, but he had some tough competition in his neighbour Larry Glashoff. His wife Maria is the creator of the artisanal treats like lemon marmalade and roasted walnut oil, but Larry sang us a song about boysenberries, which was the real treat.
Our local olive oils are perhaps not as well known as the wines, but the Bariani stall is a staple at the market with oil so fresh that its harvest date is noted for you to see. I haven’t had the chance to sample Bariani’s balsamic vinegar yet, but I need to use the three open bottles already in my kitchen first. With so many vineyards in the area, the Farmer’s Market is a great place to discover new wineries like Heringer Estates. Its home is not far away, just down the delta a bit to Clarksburg with a renovated sugar mill that now serves as a tasting room. A stop by their booth will earn you an invitation for a free tasting along with information about upcoming picnics, wine pairing events and even romantic getaways.
At the end of the market on the west side is where the proteins live. Here you can find smaller concerns like Bledsoe Meats with a variety of smoked bacon and Wild Little Fish who feature salt water beasties such as crab and ahi. Oysters come fresh from the beds at Point Reyes and freshwater offerings like crawdads from here in the delta compete with exotic sea snails and fat catfish. As the seasons change we’ll be seeing a variety of locally raised meats such as lamb, pork and occasionally even beefalo. The hybrid buffalo meat has a richer flavour than regular beef with a somewhat heartier mouth feel and makes for an excellent burger.
The influence that California chefs have on global cuisine is enormous, but those chefs were all inspired by the abundance of foods they found at local fresh air markets. A true foodie wanting to experience the real gold of the Golden State will eschew the fancy restaurants, opting instead to hit the open road in true style. Motoring through California and stopping at all the roadside fruit and vegetable markets – and they are EVERYWHERE – is what the natives do. It’s a voyage of discovery for your palate and a feast for your eyes as well.