Spring is here, finally, and Northwest farmers markets are gearing up. I’m in Portland this month and that means Saturday mornings at my favorite Northwest market, PFM at PSU.
The Portland Farmers Market (PFM) on the Portland State University (PSU) campus in downtown Portland is everything a local farmers market should be: fresh, seasonal, regional, sustainable, and mostly organic. I’m not the only one who thinks it rocks.
Eating Well Magazine conducted a search for the 10 best farmers markets in the country and ranks Portland Farmers Market at #3. Diddit.com ranks it at #6. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has experienced this vibrant regional market with its abundance of locally grown, produced, ranched, and hand crafted foods. In fact, the entire network of farmers markets in Portland is exceptional.
A Seattle native most of my life, I’m a fan of the grand dame of farmers markets, Pike Place Market (PPM), even though the local bounty has slowly and mysteriously disappeared over the years.
But while I still regularly spend Saturday mornings wandering Pike Place Market, I no longer buy much of my produce there. Flowers, yes. Produce, no. And if the empty armed “shoppers” at PPM indicate anything, I’m not alone.
That includes me. Here’s my trusty market cart. It’s even insulated. If I remember to throw in ice before heading to the market, even fish and shellfish stay well chilled until I get them home and into the frig. I never head to the market without it.
No one is idly gawking on Saturday. If there are tourists, they are buying like everyone else. Long stalks of rhubarb and bundles of asparagus are protruding from bags and carts.
As I’m oohing and ahhing over the tiny turnips, the vendor hands me a sample. The flavor of a spring turnip is decidedly less assertive than that of a fall turnip. I decide to use this delicate tasting, crisp vegetable raw in a salad of mixed Asian baby greens. Spring turnips are also wonderful in a gratin with gruyere, heavy cream, spring garlic, baby leeks, fresh thyme and toasted bread crumbs.
Raab, raab everywhere. The market is overflowing with it. But what, precisely, is raab?
Raab is available only in the spring, when over-wintered plants in the brassica (mustard) family (cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnip, collard, kale, and broccoli) begin to flower and send out seed shoots. It is most tender before the florets actually flower, and is wonderful sauteed, braised, stir fried, grilled, or raw in hearty salads.
I spot these fresh herb bowls and think how great they will look in the LunaCafe kitchen. But then I remember the herb garden (which needs weeding). These would make great gifts though. Another vendor sells salad bowls filled with several baby lettuces, parsley, chives, and herbs.
I have cooked too little with parsnips over the years, but know that they can be used in much the same way as carrots. A recipe in Kurt Beecher Dammeier’s Pure Flavor cookbook comes to mind (Parsnip Spice Cake with Dried Montmorency Cherries and Cream Cheese Frosting), and I buy a large bunch.
Whenever I see spinach so young, so tender, I have an immediate craving for my signature Wilted Spinach Salad with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Baby Porcini Mushrooms, and Creamy Hot Bacon & Balsamic Dressing. MauiJim used to drive from Yakima to Seattle every Friday night to eat this salad, which I produced at his request week after week. To this day, I ocassionally wonder whether he married me for me or the salad. (I can’t find a recipe for any thing similar on the web so will work it up for you in the weeks ahead.)
I grab my must-have loaf of Dave’s Killer Good Seed Bread. If you haven’t tried this bread, it’s a must have for breakfast toast. The wrapper says Heavenly Texture and Saintly Flavor and that about covers it.
All this shopping makes us ravenous. Well that and we didn’t have time for our usual Saturday breakfast at Fuller’s. There are several choices of prepared food at the market (tamales, crepes, pizza, soups, and biscuits with gravy come to mind), but these delicious Spicy Northern Italian Sausage Sandwiches have our names on them.
My last stop is at The Tart Lady. There is still a long line, but I have my eye on a pear frangipane tart and decide it’s worth the wait.
I end up with Double Chocolate Brownies and Wild Mushroom and Gorgonzola Tarts as well.
Next week I will buy a few bunches of the pencil-thin asparagus, Brussels sprout raab, rainbow chard, fiddlehead ferns, spring salad mix, more rhubarb, and of course more tulips.
April Farmers Market Highlights
- baby bok choy
- baby lettuces
- baby turnips
- broccoli raab (rapini, broccolini)
- Brussels sprouts raab
- chard (rainbow)
- cheese (cow, goat, fresh, aged)
- cherry blossoms
- collard greens
- dandelion greens
- dairy (cream, cream cheese, farm cheese)
- dried beans
- dried cherries
- Dungeness crab
- fiddlehead ferns
- green garlic
- herb starts
- kale (Italian, red Russian, Toscano)
- parsley (moss)
- potatoes, several types
- pussy willows
- limes (Rangpur hothouse)
- mushrooms, wild (maitake, shitake, yellowfoot, hedgehog, morel)
- mustard greens
- radishes, tiny
- rapini (broccoli raab)
- salad mix (hearty salad mix for braising or stir fry)
- salad mix (Asian spring salad mix)
- spring onion
- spring raab
- smoked salmon
- sugar snap pea
- turnips, baby
- turnip raab
- vegetable starts
- wild rice, Oregon grown