Saturday, June 30, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the San Francisco Ferry Building...

Being born and raised in a place like San Francisco should normally make a person avoid tourist tornado zones and the risk of being mistaken for a tourist at all costs (Fisherman's Wharf doesn't even register on the native's mental map of the city), but after having spent a year away from my "cool, grey city of love," I was inspired to break one of my cardinal rules: never set foot in the Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers' market after noon. Before 10am is ideal, after 11am is getting a little hectic, and after 12pm is total insanity, destructive tourist gremlins all over the place and everyone headed for a collective meltdown.

But the siren song of this produce paradise was too much to bear, and since I wasn't actually shopping for vegetables because I don't have my own kitchen yet, I decided that I might as well be a tourist and walk around staring at California's most beautiful vegetables and be that annoying person who just snaps creepy photos and doesn't buy anything except a breakfast egg plate and Blue Bottle coffee.

While loitering and enjoying said egg plate and coffee, I took notice of the carnival of harmless tourist profiteers that I normally ignore in my rush to be the first to fondle the doughnut peaches and heirloom greens. Superman was sweating buckets under his muscle foam while boinging merrily around on pogo boots, collecting tips for photos ("It's for health insurance!," he told onlookers with a winning smile. I assume it's to uphold his individual mandate and give the necessary support to the healthcare reform package than out of any real need for health coverage. Man of steel and all...). Magicians, clowns, and fresh-faced folksy singers in cowboy outfits rounded out the sideshow, providing much-needed distraction from smartphone data feeds.

Despite being comforted by the familiar sight of northern California blooms and plaid shirts, I was dismayed to see a sign that the farmers' market has gotten overly crowded and militantly regulated:

But as I strolled past my favorite vendors, all of whom can be found on the CUESA website, I moved on to more satisfying sights, like the multi-colored heirloom tomatoes at Balakian Farms that made me want to dive in and shout, "Treasure bath!!!"

And the tranquilly delicious scents of lavender and strawberries at Eatwell Farm:

Floating dreamily past the brown turkey figs at Knoll Farms, which are fat, pale green, and dusty purple, past the sweet-smelling stone fruit of Frog Hollow and Blossom Bluff, I wafted into my personal favorite weird greens triangle of Heirloom Organic Gardens, Star Route, and Marin Roots farms.

Heirloom Organics had its usual dazzling rows of salad and braising greens, plus an explosively cute wicker-and-gingham array of pale purple borage and what look like marigolds, alongside delicately tendriled pale carrots (or could they be baby parsnips? hard to say in retrospect).

Star Route's bounty of rainbow chard and assorted greens (ancho cress, tatsoi, red mustard, and dandelion greens) was holding up well under the swelter of unseasonably hot weather (San Francisco is supposed to be gloomy and foggy in June, a mean joke played on tourists who end up having to buy cheap fleeces embroidered with "SF" in Chinatown).

I flirted with their stinging nettles for awhile but decided to make that nettle soup, pizza, or pesto into a future ambition.

Gandhi was looking well-accompanied by a conspiracy of beards as I sauntered from Star Route across the way to Marin Roots to compare the price of designer weeds.

In a twenty-first-century weeds-to-gourmet story, the slightly chewy succulent with teardrop leaves known as purslane has risen to veggie stardom, partly on the crest of its omega-3 riches. It is lovingly cultivated by both Star Route (for $6/lb) and Marin Roots ($8/lb). Perhaps the latter's purslane was a bit larger and more comely, hence the premium. I also found a heretofore unknown weird vegetable at Marin Roots known as chocolate mint.

In an interesting twist of the human mind/palate partnership, chocolate mint does not taste like chocolate but is reminiscent of chocolates that feature this strong mint flavor, like Andes or Peppermint Patties. My slightly lazy clicking through the Internet has rendered insufficient information to say when this "chocolate mint" was thus named, but it's an interesting case of an herb taking on the name of a candy that previously took its name in part from a close relative of that same herb. (In the beginning there was mint, then there were chocolate after dinner mints and there was mint chocolate as an ice cream flavor and flavor of chocolate, and finally there was the chocolate mint for $2/bunch for sale with the spearmint at the farmers' market.)

Marin Roots also had some very alluring radishes waiting to be ravished:

After the endorphin-inducing triple-whammy of weird greens, I usually veer right (or south) and poke my head in among the beans, yarn, and dried hot peppers at Tierra Vegetables, which usually has an odd yet rustically intriguing assortment of vegetables. Today their onions and garlic were especially luscious. Maybe I've been away for too long or these were the only things not wilting in the sun, but for some reason onions and garlic seemed to be the most gorgeous and mouth-watering vegetables at the market.

See how pretty these red burger onions look in the sun?

And the chiaroscuro effect of the garlic bin!

Around the corner and rounding out my Ferry Building vegetable nirvana is Dirty Girl Produce, whose cherry-red early girl dry farmed tomatoes I die for in late August/September. Today they had the world's most adorable fist-sized romanesco, of course sitting next to yet more pretty onions:

Spycam shot of the Dirty Girl stand through Twin Girls' flowers (or did they belong to Four Sisters? Sometimes I get all the farm girls mixed up):

And next door to Dirty Girl was a farm I'd never seen before, Hunter Orchards, which had its own formidable garlic pyramid and some bright red jackpot cherries.

Not sick of onions or garlic yet? Here are even more from Heirloom (left) and Eatwell (right).

It's beautiful and overwhelming to be back in the Bay Area, starting life back up here and returning to my most favorite vegetables in the world. I'm about to move to the East Bay, though, for logistical and rental price reasons (goodbye expensive Mission District—I bequeath you to the Facebook + Google + assorted tech startup army and the rent control holdouts!), so expect some posts on Berkeley and Oakland farmers' markets in the near-near future.