The Wednesday farmers market in Santa Monica is said to be the best there is in Southern California. Fresh off my trip to Italy, and searching for some high quality food for a family dinner this weekend, I made the pilgrimage to the market this week. At the same time, I did am informal market tour for my friends L and S; I hope they had fun and learned a little at the same time!
Many chefs shop for local restaurants at this market. Though I arrived late morning, I was pleased to quickly see at least one chef still shopping, albeit for flowers~
The market spreads out over several blocks near the Santa Monica Pier. It was truly a bustling market, with lots of shoppers, and I’d estimate about 100 vendors. The quality was indeed excellent~
I loved these wooden crates all lined up, but wish they had used something besides the turf to skirt the table~
The citrus was planed up perfectly, even with the plastic crates it was beautiful~
And there was some less beautiful….these carrots are actually orange inside, but my Canadian farm-girl Mother pronounced them the ugliest tangle of carrots she’s ever seen. It’s a bad sign also that they don’t have the tops on them. I bought some anyway for color contrast; we will see how they look on the table Saturday evening!
I also found Nantes carrots, a French variety. They don’t look exactly like this in France, but I bought them…with fresh tops attached, as they should be….
And happily, there was some fun and whimsy at the market. The woman selling eggs had a very vocal rooster in a crate, adding nicely to the sounds of the market. An herb vendor had very pretty window boxes and planters for sale~
In France I love what is called fraises du bois or wild strawberries. I’ve always wondered if I could find them in Santa Monica as their flavor is so intense. And find them I did, though at a dear price. If I turned the plastic package over, I could also see the ones on the bottom were moldy. Pass! There are too many other great strawberries. These would make a great little garnish, but they were priced for “primo” not “garnish.”
I didn’t find as many “unusual” items as I thought, but I did find abundance. After some of the smaller markets I have been to, it was great to see lots and lots of produce out on display~
I should have bought these purple carrots; tops attached, at center. I did get some of the yellow carrots, at right; I will explain those when I show you Saturday dinner~
I found many farms that I know and a few familiar faces. What was interesting was the amount of merchandise that they were moving, compared to the volume they bring to other markets. Pudwill berries are fantastic, and they were almost sold out at the end of the morning. This is quantity! It is good to see the farmers moving product here.
Top of my shopping list was a true Italian-style artichoke. I was glad to see lots of artichokes for sale, mostly the smaller size. ‘Tis the season. These were very green, and very pretty; I should have bought some of these for table decor but I was on a mission~
Versus other markets, there were no “frosted” artichokes, which it seems are sent to the “lesser” markets. Some say frost heightens the flavor of the artichoke, or maybe that’s just what they tell us! Farmers would indeed send their “A” produce here, and move the lesser stuff elsewhere. Another discussion. Other ‘Chokes were violet-tinged; closer to what I looking for and more similar to Italy’s Violetta.
A larger variety, displayed well with asparagus. One thing I love about the better markets in LA is that they get farmers from Oxnard and the Ventura area; this is a very different, cooler climate and they tend to grow varieties you can’t grow in Orange and San Diego counties.
I was tempted by these baby artichokes….but passed. I have been burned on them too many times; woody…pretty but no good unless you get them absolutely fresh. Check the stem cuts to verify.
And in the end, I settled on a dozen of these~
Now, my peeve with this market is that I posed the same questions to six farms: what kind of artichoke is this and does it have a furry “choke”? Only one person had an answer to either question. She also assured me that the entire thing was edible and that it basically had no choke. Let me tell you, that artichoke DID have a choke because I cooked it that evening alla Romana; the stem was tough, the leaves were so tough my knife could barely pare it Roman style, and the only edible part was the small heart . I am not in Italy! Well, um, there was one thing about the market that did make me feel like Italy, there were people popping up everywhere, asking for money, sitting with donation signs for their plight; asking if they could carry your basket for you, and even one man in hospital gown garb in a wheelchair, without a word bellying up to sample a fresh beet slice, which the vendor gave him, also silently. No, I take that back, it was not like Italy, that is a totally Santa Monica affair! And that’s another story. Back to point:
In French markets, produce is labeled for the variety and origin, and if you inquire, you will likely hear a lengthy and precise oratory on that variety, how to prepare it, what foods to pair it with, and which wine to have with the meal. No matter if there are 20 people behind you.
Santa Monica seems to have some farmers selling, but lots of staff; when asking general questions like tell me about your blood-orange-infused olive oil, I was told talk to him. Him of course being the owner, who was on his cell phone. I appreciate farms that educate their staff on what they are selling. Sampling helps a lot; as does slicing something open so you can see what's inside. My favorite farms such as Maggie’s Greens, Sage Mountain and Valdivia understand this. I also found that depth of knowledge here at Betty B’s, all the way from Ramona, San Diego County. This gentleman knows his stuff~
I purchased these limequats from him. Thin, edible skin. Intense flavor. I don’t know what I will do with them, perhaps on the salad on Saturday, but the leaves were fresh and green, these had clearly just been picked. Oh, and the best of it was, he said he “recycles” the little boxes. You can buy the produce, but you can’t have the box. I just dumped them into my basket. I love it!!
The rest of his display was simple but well done, and of course I loved the basket and burlap combo. You can see exactly what you are buying with the sliced blood oranges in front. He had samples available too, though I only tasted the limequat, which he sliced for me with a small knife.
At the end of the morning, my basket was full. Our meal will be Italian-inspired, and to me that means start with what is local and what is fresh and seasonal. With that in mind, I loaded up on foods like fresh garlic (flat leaves at right), artichokes (fingers crossed), cremini mushrooms, various carrots, various beets, Oxnard strawberries, fantastic Swiss chard (at left, eaten same day), and the limequats.
I hope you enjoyed this little market tour. Stay tuned for the dinner menu, which will be include our own fresh pasta….