Over the weekend, when I asked myself where I should go on this week’s artist date, I thought immediately of the farmers’ market, with its rich sensory environment and sunny flavors. A friend once referred to her regular Sunday morning pilgrimages to the Hollywood market as “going to church,” and I’ve certainly felt the same way about my market jaunts in the past. The deep awe and appreciation that fills me at the sight of striped tomatoes, spotted beans, and fuzzy purple-black flowers; the divine juiciness of a fresh summer peach; the community; the shared mission of both the creators and attendees at the market — all these made me near-religious about starting my Saturdays or Sundays with a market trip. But after we moved to the Bay Area and joined a CSA, we stopped going to farmers’ markets. Receiving that packed box of goodies every other week makes market trips unnecessary; the produce is abundant and often fresher even than market offerings, and it’s fun and exciting to get a surprise grab bag. Now if I go to the market, it’s for fun only — but, being as busy as I am, I rarely remember to go now that I don’t have to. On Sunday I realized how much I miss it.
So this morning I took myself to the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market in San Francisco. After months of foggy, chilly weather, we’re finally getting summer this week, and it was even warm in this notoriously cold city. When Erik drove me to the train station at 8:15, the feel of the day reminded me of summer mornings back when I was a kid: waking up excited, realizing it was vacation and we were going to do something fun that day. I like being able to recreate that wiggly sense of anticipation even without summer camp or sleepovers at a friend’s house.
My favorite thing to do at farmers’ markets is just to receive with all my senses. I walk up and down, checking out everyone’s booths, listening to the music (alas, there were no performers today, but little kids’ chatter can be just as entertaining!), tasting fruit and honey samples, smelling the hot tamales or stir-fry, feeling the sun on my skin and feasting my eyes on all the colors and shapes.
Today I saw baby corn, thin and pale, and skinny, wrinkly green peppers standing up in their baskets. One entire table was covered in heirloom tomatoes in all hues, and more than one vendor boasted golden squash blossoms. Glossy, fat eggplants sat side by side with rosy pink radishes and delicate tendrils of parsley and cilantro. I saw round pattypan squashes the size of a baby’s fist, and zucchini that were half green and half yellow (I’ve had these before; the two halves don’t taste any different!). At a fruit-and-nut stand I tasted and then bought several squares of dark chocolate-covered almond brittle, its buttery crunch sticking to my teeth long after the chocolate dissolved on my tongue. I sampled my way through yellow peaches and green grapes before selecting the ones I would buy: sweet but not too sweet, and firm without being hard. I’m eating those now as I type.
As I tasted samples at each booth, it occurred to me that I should be writing down my impressions of each flavor, to practice describing qualities we usually don’t bother to articulate. We’ve all had to explain to someone what something tastes or smells like, and it’s often quite difficult if they’ve never had it before. But with familiar flavors, we mostly take it for granted that others know, for example, what makes a scrumptious strawberry or a tasty tomato. And yet, nibbling peaches from across many vendors, it’s startlingly obvious that the flavor of “peach” varies tremendously from variety to variety, and even within the same type (the O’Henry peaches I bought tasted worlds better than the ones I sampled at a different booth!). The donut peaches have a more subtle flavor, a little perfumey, like jasmine tea, whereas the O’Henrys are straightforward bursts of sweet summer; white peaches are something different altogether, and so are nectarines. Trying to describe the nuances of taste could really help me in pinning down elusive qualities with precision of language. But I didn’t feel like doing it today, not when I was sweaty, laden, and surrounded by people!
Back when I lived in LA, my favorite part of the Hollywood market was buying chap chae and an agua fresca and settling down on a curb near the children’s musician to listen to him drum and sing the song about “no more monkeys jumping on the bed.” Next to me there’d be Erik sopping up curtido with his pupusas, or sometimes Jason or Angela, or my parents when they came to visit. I’d listen to the rhythmic smack of the drum and the kind voice of the singer, accompanied by the smaller but more raucuous voices of the more outgoing toddlers, and watch everybody go by: trendy LA girls in big sunglasses, hipster couples with printed canvas bags, young parents pushing strollers, power shoppers who always stopped at the espresso stand, and sometimes Alicia Silverstone or Debra Messing. I guess I liked feeling like I was out in the city with so many of its other residents, sharing this experience. I missed that feeling this morning, though the produce was beautiful and the day so bright. It makes sense: I went to a weekday-morning market at the intersection of a business district and a tourist attraction, not a weekend event in a place where people live, play, and visit. Maybe next time I will find a busy weekend market and settle myself with food, my journal, and my sketchbook, to people-watch again and record a little more of the experience.
Tomorrow is craft day! It’s time to apply myself to my October FabMo boutique inventory. I’ll share with you my ideas so far, and maybe get started on making some of them!