Summer's peaches and tomatoes may be gone, but the farmers' markets in winter still offers myriad delights. These past few weekends, we've had crisp, nippy mornings and sunny skies giving a bright-blue backdrop to the crazy-colored squashes, brilliant orange persimmons and gold-stemmed chard. So far, the rains have held off but the temperature's finally gotten Bay Area-wintery, making a cup of hot chocolate a festively necessary hand-warmer for strolling from stand to stand.
And this season, while you're buying your pastured chicken and dry-farmed potatoes, spaghetti squash and sourdough bread, you can do your holiday shopping, too. At the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, there are lots of excellent and delicious treats on hand to provide a wonderful taste of our local terroir for friends and family near and far. And if you can't decide what your local pals would like best--lavender honey or cider syrup? quince cheese or goat cheese?--the market is offering its popular gift coins again. Each wooden "coin" is worth $1, and can be redeemed at any market stall. They're available in any amount, but you can get a cute, ready-to-go brown box filled with $25 worth of coins from the information booth. (A good trick to know if you run out of cash at the market: use a credit card to buy coins instead of waiting in the long ATM lines inside the Ferry Building.)
Is Dad finally upgrading to a new crock pot? Give him a little inspiration with Rancho Gordo's heirloom bean box ($50), a selection of five one-pound bags of organic dry beans (including, naturally, Christmas limas), plus a sturdy fabric totebag and a copy of Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo. The best stocking stuffer? Forget the Old Spice; grab a sheaf of Fatted Calf's awesome beef jerky instead. Fatted Calf also has a great selection of holiday gift boxes for the carnivores on your list; you can check out their selection on their website or at their retail shops in Hayes Valley and the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. If you want to pick up a gift box at the Ferry Plaza market instead, just give them a call at their Napa store (707-256-3684) to make arrangements.
Salty or sweet? Whichever way your pals' tastes swing, Eatwell Farm has a fragrant seasoning to match. They've expanded beyond their original (and still much-adored) rosemary and lavender salts; now, choose from smoked chili salt, thyme salt, dried heirloom tomato salt, and dried lemon salt ($6, or 5 for $25), all heavenly sprinkled over grilled lamb or steak. Got a sweet tooth? Add a few pinches of smoked chili sugar to fire up your hot chocolate, or make your Christmas cookies a little more grown-up with a sprinkle of citrusy-herbal lemon verbena sugar ($9).
Didn't get around to pickling this summer? Dirty Girl Produce has plenty of dilly beans ($8/jar) on hand, along with summer-bright tomatoes in quart jars. Put the two together, add some Square One organic vodka, and you've got a Bloody Mary brunch kit for your favorite morning-after buddy.
The Apple Farm has a stylish, all-American treat for those of us with Champagne taste but no bucks for French fizz: sparkling hard cider, made from biodynamically farmed apples, priced at just $8.50 a bottle. It's dry rather than soda-sweet, and makes a wonderful aperitif or festive toast.
In the more than a decade that I've been a fan of this wonderful organic apple orchard and kitchen up in the Anderson Valley, I've found any number of uses for their elegantly bottled apple-balsamic vinegar ($16), with its label hand-written in gold ink. To round out a holiday morning breakfast-in-bed basket, pick up a pint jar of rosy Pink Pearl applesauce ($14) and a jug of tart-sweet cider syrup ($16), perfect for pouring over gingerbread pancakes or eggnog French toast.
Jam maker June Taylor is back with her unsurpassed, brandy-soaked English Christmas cakes ($50), along with dense, sliceable, beautifully molded fruit "cheeses" ($18-$24) in quince, quince-rose geranium, Santa Rosa plum, and damson plum, perfect accompaniments to a cheese platter. Taylor also has a shimmering selection of all-natural fruit syrups ($10) great for all the SodaStream fanciers in your life. Boost their bubbles with flavors like raspberry, Summersweet peach-white sage, Dapple Dandy pluot-rosemary, or Meyer lemon-peppermint.
Conveniently for your party planning, the pretty goat, sheep, and cow cheeses of Andante Dairy are right at the next stall; don't miss the Pastoral, rolled in green herbs and topped with pink peppercorns. The only challenge? Getting all (or any) of these treats wrapped and given away before you make rather merry and find a home for them all right in your very own pantry.