Now that it's July, we can join the rest of the country and call it summer. The sun shines and shines, cobalt skies shout. Pale legs are emancipated; dogs lope across beaches and parks. Fruit of all stripes and colors arrives fast and furious, fills kitchens, and buries farm stand crates. Basil's oily aroma drunkens noses, corn on the cob gives us something to floss about, we wait at the edge of our seats for tomatoes, melon juices drip down sweaty necks, fleeting apricots seduce, ice cream becomes a meal, dinner tables overflow with barely cooked greens, grill smoke permeates cool breezes, bush berries stain fingers and lips, stone fruit hybrids decorate tables alongside tiny flowers and we glow at summer parties wearing linen and seersucker.
Summer is alive with possibility. We expose our skin to the first heat of summer, dive without hesitation into oceans and rivers and lakes. Eat outside, swallow gulps of sunshine, season fish and meat simply with peppery green olive oils and pebbly sea salts, drink gazpacho, ice coffee, adventure near and far, nap in the shade of old trees, combat mosquitoes, spread chevre on toast and call it a day.
Farmers' markets are at their most energetic during the summer. Farmers wait impatiently for fruits and veggies to reach utmost potential, compete with brazen birds and gophers, pick and pack fragile, ripe, perfect produce and hope there's nothing left to bring home. Summer's sleepless nights belong to flatbeds, Latin American men and women pickers and grafters, and clear still moonlit skies.
Chefs understand that their food costs will rise in summer. Pastry chefs emerge like bears from winter hibernation, doubling and tripling dessert options. Farmers' markets become daytime porn for those of us locked away in florescent-lit kitchens. We all wait for our favorite farmers to return, their arrival celebrated with multiple case buys and a change in dinner plans. We walk away with more than we need and we invite friends over with abandon. We have leftovers for breakfast and breakfast for dinner.
Depending on size, location, and the arrangement of various farms, every farmers' market develops a personality slightly different from the next one. In summer I try to visit as many as I can get to, comparing prices, varietals, and visiting those who I know only sell at one or the other markets closest to my home.
Short Night is one such farm. Growing specific, ecclectic crops, the McAravy's have a dedicated, if not slightly possessive following. Regular customers whisper sweet nothings in Jeff McAravy's ear hoping to get the best melon, sweetest Vidalia onion, most tender okra. His family's farm only graces the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market.
Perfectly flanked on her left and right at the market are complementary foods. June Taylor displays tasting jars of the season's potent flavours in fruit "cheeses," conserves and traditional British cut marmalades, and Della Fattoria's beautiful booth overflows with large baskets and hand crafted breads. They have a line from the moment the market opens at 8am, until they sell out.
And on Della Fattoria's other side is the small and humble Bodega Goat Cheese. Branching away from the ever-present French style, Javier and Patty raise goats on a Sustainable ranch and produce cheeses in a Peruvian style. I am head-over-heels in love with their smooth silky Crema, but I have rarely disliked anything they come to market with.
Turn on a dime and you'll be facing Redwood Hill. A goat farm worth visiting, especially after the goats have just given birth. In summer I keep up with my plain yogurt and fresh fruit breakfasts with their goat yogurt. Light and refreshing, I have often used it as a base for pannacotta and sorbet. And year-round I'm picking up the award winning Bucheret.
On the water-side of the Ferry Building I also always stop by Mariquita, chat with Julia and Andy Griffin. I pick up generous bunches of Erbette chard, a melt-in-your-mouth Italian green they were given the seeds to by a SF chef after an inspirational trip. Various kinds of basil scent the air and I look longingly at the lemon basil remembering all the ice cream I've made with it!
Yarena Farms lives next door in a blink of a booth. They are the only farmers I know growing and selling Tayberries. A true fuchsia, these long berries hail from Australia, are uniquely flavored and perfect for pie.
Although Blossom Bluff Orchards comes to the market year-round, I am most happy to see them during stone fruit season. Ted and Fran Loewen grow a vast array of nectarines, plums, apricots and all the hybrids in between. Once certified "California Clean," Blossom Bluff is currently mostly Organic and by 2007 will be fully so. Checking in with them weekly insures tasting some of the most fragile, delicately flavored plum-apricot crosses California fruit breeders have to offer. Luckily for us they can be found in every major farmers' market in SF, Berkeley and Marin.
Set up to accomodate the crowds, Knoll Farms has to be one of the busiest stalls. In fig season you won't find Kristie Knoll and her hive of workers standing still! Nik Terczak samples their wares with a nifty "candy-girl" contraption and sweet and savoury cooks pick up orders from the refrigerated truck in back.
Circling around to the other side I see what Dirty Girl has to offer. Lately their strawberries have been pregnant with deep sweetness and delicate flesh. Icicle and French radishes are always a sure bet and if I'm making a large salad I'll buy a bunch of dandelion greens to add a dash of bitterness and depth.
Walking alongside the south end of the Ferry Building I pass Blue Bottle Coffee and stop for iced coffee of the gods. Cold water infused and finished with a dash of chicory, this liquid should be made illegal or turned into a National Treasure. "But you're not a coffee drinker," my friends admonish. It's true, and yet, I am bewitched.
Fatted Calf is conveniently located next door and I pick up my weekly order of whatever meaty pleasure catches my fancy from their tempting newsletter.
O Summer! Peppers of all colors, heats, sizes! No one knows peppers better than Happy Quail Farms. Craving Hungarian peppers? They have them. Need a quick and fabulous appetizer? Try Pimientos de Padron. Easy to prepare, insurpassably delicious, and addictive, you'll wish you bought more no matter how many bags you buy. After your first introduction, sharing might be difficult!)
Finishing in San Francisco, I head back home, stopping at the Berkeley Farmers' Market on Center Street off Martin Luther King. Only one block long, this market is bustling with the energy of warmer days and more and more produce to choose from. People fill bicycle baskets and catch up with friends.
Less competitive and overwhelming than the Ferry Building market, I have more time to talk to farmers and food artisans. I walk the length of the street and shop on my way back. Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm gives me a hug and and we talk about when he will bring his incredible peaches to San Francisco. Because of the rain, many crops are late as planting or ripening was impossible with the ground so wet.
I pick out a flat of perfect nectarines from Blossom Bluff for my friend Michael Dotson, chef at Evvia. I kiss each one; inhaling deeply, look carefully at the stem end to make sure color bleeds right down into its belly button. Stone fruit should always be ripe when it's picked, as it gains scant more sugar off the tree.
I already have some of Eduardo Morell's dense rye bread at home, but I take a long hard look at his carefully arranged table, remembering a time when this business was a dream he spoke of excitedly.
We visit Blue Bottle again and finish the morning with the best kept pastry secret in the Bay Area: Pasta Pacifico's dark raisin studded, flaky, buttery danish.