As more locally-grown produce has been popping up on grocery shelves, you might feel like you could skip the farmers’ markets and just hit the supermarket. If you do, you will miss out on some delightful organically grown treats. It is these only-at-the market vendors that draw me to two and sometimes three markets every week. Here are my faves:
Dirty Girl Produce Shelling Beans
My southern daddy taught me to love a good pot of pinto beans. The only thing better is fresh shelling beans. Dirty Girl Produce and La Tercera both sell cranberry beans, cannellini and other varieties. I find the act of shucking the pods of big black coro negro beans relaxing. Boil in salty water and you will have tender beans in under 2 hours. They are great in soups by themselves: starchy, salty packets of deliciousness. Dirty Girl Produce (which offers other unusual delights, such as heirloom cabbage): Tuesday South Berkeley market; La Tercera: Saturday Berkeley market.
The only thing better than a fresh cucumber is a good pickle. One of my favorite pickles is made by Cultured, purveyors of a variety of pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Try the spicy cucumber pickles and get a bonus: a spicy pickled pepper to cut up and add to a salad and soup for some extra punch. Cultured: Tuesday South Berkeley and Saturday Berkeley markets (and in their Berkeley shop).
Tomatero Farm Strawberries
I always thought a strawberry was just a strawberry -- until Tomatero Organic Farm offered me a chance to compare an Albion (firm, hollow inside – just what I think of when I think “strawberry”) to a Seascape. The floral tones of the Seascape are gone for the season, but you can still try sugary Rosas and large, colorful Sweet Anns, which have a tropical, fruity flavor. Pick out your favorite Tomatero Farm strawberry at the Temescal, Grand Lake or Montclair markets.
Full Belly Farm Pastured Eggs
Pastured eggs, laid by outdoor chickens who eat a varied diet, offer more nutrition than commercial eggs plus dazzling orange-yellow yolks. If you don’t have cluckers in your back yard, Full Belly Farms eggs are the next best thing. Both Full Belly and Riverdog Farms bring pastured eggs to the Tuesday South Berkeley market, so you have two chances to lay your hands on a dozen (though the eggs are often gone by 5 pm – it is good to shop early). The South Berkeley Tuesday market is the only East Bay stop for Full Belly Farm’s many unusual offerings, including locally grown popcorn, dried beans and wool from their sheep. If you want an egg you can safely eat over easy, or even the very old school soft-boiled, hit the Tuesday South Berkeley one. Full Belly Farm: Tuesday, South Berkeley market; Riverdog Farm: Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday Berkeley markets.
La Tercera Dragon Tongue Beans
When I was a kid, green beans were my favorite vegetable. There is something about the delicate fuzz on a fresh green bean that makes me feel like I’m ten years old and school is out. Dragon tongue beans take me right back there, only better. These long, flat beans are look like Romano beans with purple striations. I know only one place to get them: La Tercera at the Saturday Berkeley market. Dragon tongues are best lightly steamed with a bit of salt and butter; they have the satisfyingly rubbery texture of a bean that bites back. I taste a summer garden every time I bite into one. La Tercera specializes in unusual varietals and rare vegetables. La Tercera: Saturday Berkeley market, through the fall and early winter.
Riverdog Farm Carrots
The fact that Riverdog Farms grows carrots in three colors (traditional orange, pale off-white and pretty purple) is less thrilling than what’s inside. A plain old orange carrot from Riverdog is not just like any other -- it is noticeably sweeter. In a perfect world, I would feed only Riverdog carrots into my hungry, hungry juicer. Riverdog is between carrot harvests right now; expect a fresh crop in October, just in time for all your holiday cooking needs. Riverdog Farm (which sells a wide variety of fruits and vegetables): Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday Berkeley markets.
Triple J Fresh Ginger
You can buy ginger in the produce section of most supermarkets, but you will find white ginger grown in Pacifica only at the Triple J table at the Berkeley Saturday market. The farm is so tiny that they only come out once a month. It’s worth a special trip for the ginger: fresh, crunchy, juicy and vastly better than the dry, stringy stuff you are liable to find on grocery shelves. Until I tried Triple J’s fresh root, I didn’t know how delightful ginger root is when it’s truly fresh. Triple J (which also sells plum cider and apple cider vinegars, among other rare treats): first Saturday of the month, downtown Berkeley market.