Northwest Fresh: Portland Farmers Market Spring 2009

Spring is here and Northwest farmers markets are gearing up. That means Saturday mornings at my favorite Northwest market, PFM at PSU.

Northwest Fresh: Portland Farmers Market Spring 2009

Northwest Fresh: Portland Farmers Market Spring 2009

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. 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 occasionally 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.

Compare this to the scene at Portland Farmers Market this past Saturday. We get there later than intended (around 9:30) and encounter already long lines at many of the vendor tables. Almost every adult is slinging a large shopping or duffle bag or pulling a wagon or collapsible shopping cart.

Spring Baby Leeks

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.

Oregon Hazelnuts

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.

Northwest Spring Rhubarb
Everyone at the market is friendly but also clearly absorbed in scouting and scoring the best the growers, producers, ranchers, fishermen, and culinary artisans have to offer. Vendors are engaged in nonstop serial conversations about the merits of their wares, while simultaneously ringing up sales and making change.
Baby Turnips

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.

If the wonderful fresh and prepared foods are not enough to get you up on Saturday morning, this market is also entertaining. Live music wafts from several directions, a young man walks a rope strung between two trees, a willowy woman does interpretive dance on the sidewalk, and a street poet offers spontaneous personal poems for anyone interested. This is Portland at it’s quirky best.

Kale Raab

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.

Fresh Herb Bowl

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.

Sweet Spring Parsnips

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.
Tender Spring Spinach

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.
Northern Italian Sausage Sandwich

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.

The Tart Lady

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.

The Tart Lady's Pear Frangipane Tart

I end up with Double Chocolate Brownies and Wild Mushroom and Gorgonzola Tarts as well.

The Tart Lady's Wild Mushroom Gorgonzola Tart

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.

Spring Flowers in the Northwest

April Farmers Market Highlights

  • arugula
  • asparagus
  • baby bok choy
  • baby lettuces
  • baby turnips
  • broccolini
  • Brussels sprouts raab
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • chard (rainbow)
  • cheese (cow, goat, fresh, aged)
  • chives
  • cider
  • cilantro
  • clams
  • collard greens
  • dandelion greens
  • dairy (cream, cream cheese, farm cheese)
  • dried beans
  • dried cherries
  • Dungeness crab
  • eggs
  • fennel
  • fiddlehead ferns
  • green garlic
  • hazelnuts
  • herb starts
  • honey
  • kale (Italian, red Russian, Toscano)
  • mint
  • mizuna
  • parsley (moss)
  • parsnips
  • potatoes
  • limes (Rangpur hothouse)
  • mushrooms, wild (maitake, shitake, yellowfoot, hedgehog, morel) \
  • mustard greens
  • radishes
  • rapini
  • rhubarb
  • salad mix (hearty salad mix for braising or stir fry)
  • salad mix (Asian spring salad mix)
  • spinach
  • spring onion
  • spring raab
  • smoked salmon
  • sugar snap pea
  • turnips
  • turnip raab
  • vegetable starts
  • wild rice, Oregon grown
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  1. says

    Simply gorgeous photos! Man I miss the Portland Market, and Pike Place as well. Both used to be my home towns!

    Sara @ Our Best Bites´s last blog post..Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos

    • smsb says

      Boise is wonderful too, Sara. :-) MauiJim is from Eastern Washington, and we spent a few years there going to college together (Ellensburg). I do so love that terrain and actually “hunger” for it periodically. I love the city, as long as I can get to the country quite often. :-) Roadside stands in the less populated areas are always fun. Thanks for stopping by. Do you chat on twitter?

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by! I am officially addicted to Dave’s Killer Bread now. There’s no going back. :-) You have the Granville Market in Vancouver BC. That’s such a great market too. Hope to get up your way this spring.

    • smsb says

      Thanks Katie! I feel very blessed to have so many great farmers markets in both Portland and Seattle to choose from. When we go to Boston later this spring, the first thing I plan to do is scout out their farmers markets. That city rocks on the culinary front. Love your lastest post. So funny! …Susan


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