I spent more than I had budgeted at the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning, but then again, I usually do and I can’t imagine a better cause. One of the great gifts of living downtown is proximity to the granddaddy of all the local FMs, the one held on the PSU campus just blocks from my abode. Every Saturday morning when I am in town, rain or shine, I join the slow anticipatory walk of the urban hunter/gatherers as we make our way up the Park Blocks to see what’s new and fresh and irresistible among the many offerings each week.
The market sets up in two grassy quadrangles between the student center and the library, creating a completely pedestrian-friendly and wind-resistant forum for the dozens and dozens of vendors who come from near and far to sell their wares directly to the eager consumers. We are blessed indeed to live in a part of the world that can have available on a nearly year-round basis nearly every type of healthy and inviting comestible: fruits and vegetables with a vengeance, of course, but also meats and fish and cheeses, nut spreads and honey, baked goods, preserved foods (pickles and relishes), grains, wines, vinegars, olive oils, candles, soaps, flowers, and a few other goodies that are escaping me at the moment. Here’s a shot of one of Oregon’s signature products – the vaunted mushroom in a range of shapes and varieties:
The amount of work the vendors must invest to make this market happen boggles the imagination. Rising long before dawn, folks pack the products into trucks and make their way to PSU. One of the meat vendors drives from Bend, a good three-four hour drive. “We can’t be sure we’ll be here after next week,” one rancher said to me. “The weather in the mountains can get pretty fierce.” Once on campus, they unload their buckets and baskets and boxes and coolers of goods, move the trucks away, and set up the booths, most of which were beautifully decorated in fall foliage and cunningly merchandised to put the most tempting shapes and colors under the shoppers’ very fingers. All this is up and ready to go at 8:30 in the morning (the local chefs are the first to arrive, apparently), then they stand on their feet selling for six straight hours, and THEN they reverse the process, repacking the trucks and vans, cleaning up the quadrangles until you’d never know they had been there and driving back to wherever they came from. “Oh, yeah, it’s an 18-hour day,” one blooming young woman said to me yesterday. “But we love it.”
Part of the fun is watching some of the products actually being made in front of you. A popular spot yesterday was the chili stand, complete with real-time roasting:
This stand with all manner of chili products (dried, jarred, you name it) had teamed up with an organic corn tortilla vendor and was doing a land-office business. Location, location, location. In addition to showing the actual processes, some stands have delicious menu options made up on tiny stoves in their booths using their products and offering beautifully printed recipes of how those dishes can be made at home. “What? You’re out of the Hungarian Mushroom soup already? I told my husband we had to come here first and he wouldn’t listen to me,” one anguished customer trilled. “I’m so sorry,” said the flustered chef, “but it’s always the first to go.” While I personally am not much of a bakery person, there was one booth that caught my eye because its sign employed a word that is a fan favorite of a special friend of mine. JJS, this one’s for you:
Besides food to sell and food to buy and of course coffee to slurp (this is Portland, after all), there are always a mix of musicians to create a lovely atmosphere that encourages everyone to slow down and just enjoy the ride. Yesterday’s main stage featured this trio, delighting listeners of all ages:
So what did I get, you ask? I counted it all up when I got back home. Let’s see. Pistachio butter, carrots, turnips, Jerusalem artichoke, blueberries, kohlrabi, parsley, potatoes, prunes, pink beans, most to complement what was already in my fridge that went into my weekly stew that I cooked up today. (And, much to my surprise, a huge hunk of cow to braise and turn into stock to flavor me through the winter, from the self-same rancher in Bend. Who knew? ) Yummmmmy indeed.