Jon and I visited with Jon's dad in Berkeley the weekend before last and when asked what I wanted to do while we were in town, I immediately suggested a visit to the farmers market. To be honest, since moving to Seattle I've become less and less enchanted with farmers markets. But I suspect it has more to do with Seattle than with farmers markets in general. And the Berkeley Market is supposed to be one of the best.
Growing up outside of Philadelphia we would frequent farm stands and occasionally farmers markets for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer, and apples and pumpkins in the fall. Fresh and simple, they were just a good place to pick up better quality and locally grown produce. Later in Ithaca, NY where I attended college, the farmers market was a mecca for hippies and Moosewood types with plenty of vegan food, folk music, and edible flowers. It was fun, but not the most convenient place to pick up groceries. Plus, you can't exactly expect farmers to grow much in a climate where it snows for 9 months straight. Later when I lived in New York, the Union Square market was such a perfect contrast to city life - with wildflowers and country pies, and it was located within walking distance of Whole Foods and Traders Joes which made getting everything I needed, or more accurately everything I could lug home, so much easier.
And then I moved out to Seattle, just in time for summer. I started frequenting my neighborhood farmers market. I had a whole Saturday routine down - brew some locally roasted coffee, go for a walk in one of the cities many parks, and end with a trip to the market - for fresh flowers, cherry tomatoes, and artisan breads. But as I grew more accustomed to life in my new city, I started realizing that everything I liked at the market could be purchased elsewhere and without all the hassle. And I started to grow resentful of farmers markets for high prices, short hours, long lines, and sub par produce sold as if it's the most precious thing around.
But when I went to the Berkeley market, all the resentment melted away. They had beautiful displays of heirloom tomatoes and every kind of summer squash imaginable, and a militant no bag policy - that while inconvenient when traveling without ones green bags, seemed to fit perfectly with their purpose. And unlike Seattle, everything seemed fresh, relatively bug free, and reasonably priced. The allure of farmers markets was back! (With our bounty, Jon's dad made a lovely pasta dish with tomatoes and zucchini and I made a variation on my quinoa salad with grilled peppers, summer squash, and red onions, fresh tomatoes and avocado.)
Later in the week, we drove down to LA where and I was able to check out the Wednesday Santa Monica market. And it kinda blew the Berkley market out of the water. Maybe it's just the novelty of having several kinds of locally grown avocados available or the bundles of fresh Japanese and Vietnamese shiso leaf. Or the fact that right in the middle of an uber commercial urban mall, they closed down the streets for stand after stand of fresh and locally produced food. But it made me want to move right then and there. Unfortunately since we were staying in a hotel at that point, I couldn't really cook anything. So, I limited my purchases to freshly squeezed pink grapefruit and Valencia orange juices, a pint of California strawberries, and a muffin. But it was all delicious!