Markets and Sources

Its Spring in the Béarn

Asp April 13

This white asparagus is a variety called “asperge violet” by the French to distinguish it from its cousin that is totally white including the tips. These were at the Tuesday market at Orthez.

While Seattle waits for the Spring produce, spring arrived a few weeks ago in the Béarn.  Asparagus, both white and green and as thick as my thumb mark the apex of the season.  Strawberries (strawberries!  We will be waiting  weeks for then at home) from les Landes, 20 minutes north of Orthez in varieties with musical sounding names (La Gariguette; la Cigaline; l’Elsanta).  Purple artichokes from Provence.  Violet tinges, turnips with fine cream colored skins from near Tarbes.

Its a rare treat to be able to fete the arrival of spring vegetables twice in one year.    A side benefit to a spring visit to the Béarn and a return to Seattle in May.

Asp April 13 2

Preparing asparagus the French way, which is to say, they must be peeled. I find this step necessary for white asparagus but totally unnecessary for green.

A confession: although interesting as a novelty, I find I still prefer green asparagus to white.  This after exploring a number of cooking methods and using them in a variety of different dishes and having eaten the white stalks in reputable restaurants.  I am not sure I get the hype.  The white variety is sweeter than the green and more delicate, but to my mind, it lacks the earthy flavor of green asparagus at its best.  The most successful white asparagus dish I have eaten is a creamy soup, embellished with slices of fresh black truffle.



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Rainy Saturday at the Farmers Market

Saturday morning,  having coffee at a Greek restaurant up the street from the University District Farmers Market, reading Michael Lynch’s In Praise of Reason, thinking the reasonable course might be to stay here instead of going out into the rain to shop.

Proof of what a strange transition from Summer to Fall we had this year:  tomatoes still very present on the farm tables. Even a few melons and peppers still lingering around.

All the cabbage family really hitting their stride:  Brussels Sprouts, Romanesco, cauliflower, Savoy, red and green cabbages, broccoli.

Beautiful quinces available at prices between $3 and $6 a pound depending on the stand.

Yellow chantrelles make a comeback with the rain and don’t even look that wet.

Pears, apples, asian pears, walnuts, even some grape, both concord and white table grapes.

Squashes, pumpkins, acorns, kabochas and many more but so far none of the big French red pumpkins that were so good last year.

A lot of dogeared vendors using poles to spill the pooling rain from their tents.  You know when the vendors start thanking you for “making it out in this weather”, its a crummy day.


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Farm Table Report – University Market May 26

New garlic and rhubarb at the U-District Farmers Market

9am Saturday at the University Farmers Market
Memorial Day Weekend and the weather feels almost like summer.  Even at 9am, the air is warm, no breeze, few clouds.

I took the old number 43 bus to the University Farmer’s Market this morning, not sure exactly what to expect.  Given the holiday weekend, it is possible that the number of farms represented (not to mention the number of shoppers) could be pretty small.  Nice weather on a holiday never helps business.

My fears are premature, though;  lots of farmers are already set up and selling at 9am and the crowd, though not large, is respectable.  The season has finally begun in earnest and the cold, dark days of winter when only hardy souls make it to the Market, are (nearly) forgotten. Continue reading

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University Farmers Market

The sky looked broken and unpromising on the way to the University Farmers Market this morning.  The market itself, by contrast, had a decidedly early Spring feel; not cold but not really warm.  Snatches of sunshine breaking through the clouds but a rainbow hinting at rain to come.

In the year-long life cycle of the Farmer’s Markets in Seattle, the beginning of May is still very early in the season.  Continue reading

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Ferme KUKULU in Espelette

During a recent visit to the Southwest of France, we visited one of the artisan cheese makers who’s cheeses we are lucky enough to feature on our cheese board at both Le Pichet and Cafe Presse.  Ferme Kukulu is located just outside of the small town of Espelette in the heart of the French Basque Countries.  Our introduction to this farm was provided by our friend Olivier Boyer at Corsican Cellars, who imports the cheeses of Ferme Kukulu to Seattle.

On Visiting Farms
To me, there is no better way to really understand a product than to visit the place were it is made.  Continue reading

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The Tuesday Market in Orthez

A selection of treats from the Tuesday Market, October 2011

There are two market days every week in Orthez.  Outdoors Saturday, in the parking lot of la Moutet, is the local farmer’s market that features only the bounty of the surrounding countryside, including offerings from farmers, meat producers and culinary artisans (and also a large selection of plants, vegetable starts, trees and flowers from the local nursery). This market is small, almost intimate with only 12-13 venders, and a truck or two, selling organic fruits and vegetables, a small amount of dairy products, including Oussau Iraty, a firm sheep’s milk cheese that is the most famous cheese of the region (it is traditionally eaten accompanied by sour cherry jam),  chickens and eggs, and handmade fresh and cured sausages.  These are supplemented by a stand selling oysters from Arcachon (2 hours away) and another selling roasted chickens, hams and pork loins, all vividly on display as they turn on a huge open flame rotisserie, their fat dripping into a long tray of tiny fingerling potatoes below. Continue reading

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This week in the Farmer’s Markets


As the September equinox approaches, bringing with it the official first day of Fall, Seattle has been enjoying one of the warmest stretches of Summer.  The evening when I visited the Madrona farmer’ market recently felt like an evening in July, with many people strolling idly, the park full of couples chatting on benches and bar-b-ques flavoring the air.  The products in the markets are reflective of this unexpected warmth, featuring a return of fruits and vegetables that already have come and gone earlier in the year. Continue reading

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The Fall Harvest Season Arrives at the Pike Place Market

Maltby Produce, Labor Day Weekend 2011

When I think of the growing season in Seattle from the distance of the winter, I often make the mistake of associating July and August with height of the harvest.  This year especially, because of the very mild summer, spending time in the Pike Place Market has made the truth abundantly clear:  the real height of the harvest begins in September and continues well into October or even November.

Although the farm tables have been full since early July, the peak of the harvest season has now begun in earnest.  On this first weekend of September, the tables in the Market are fairly groaning under the weight of an ever growing selection.  Melons, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are just beginning to arrive, while favorites from earlier in the season, like lettuces, greens and radishes, are making a second, late season showing. Continue reading

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Franks Produce reopens in the Pike Place Market

Frank Jr in the newly remodeled Frank's Quality Produce

Frank’s Quality Produce re-0pened on June 15, 2011 after a winter and spring long  closure that was required so that  earthquake retrofits  could be made in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  Frank’s Quality Produce is a longtime market resident, with members of the family having sold produce at Pike Place for four generations.  Their stand, in the Corner Market Building, has long been one of my favorites and distinguished itself among the high-stalls as one of the last to still sell at least some produce grown on family-owned land  and as one of the first to  feature produce from local organic farms.  Frank’s Quality Produce has been the primary produce supplier for Le Pichet since its opening in 2000 and continues to be an important supply source for both Le Pichet and Cafe Presse. Continue reading

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Seattle’s Farmers Markets – May and June 2011

Yes Frank gave me this bag in exchange for publicity.

If you have been frequenting the Farmers Markets in Seattle all winter long, congratulations.  I try to make it to at least one market each week, just to keep abreast of the produce that is available, but during the winter it can be a lonely vigil.  After the first of January, the crowds thin down to a trickle and the vendor mix takes a decided turn toward the pre-produced (jams, pickles, bread, pasta) and the instantly edible (soup, stir fry, pizza, crepes) and away from fresh produce, meats and cheeses.  By February, mushrooms are long gone, the apples and pears are beginning to look a bit tired and new ideas for cooking winter squash are met with mixed reviews (acorn squash stuffed with quinoa, bacon and dried fruit was a surprising success with Sheila.  Southwest French-style roasted squash cake made from Sweet Dumpling squash, less so).  At least I can console myself with a dozen oysters from Taylor Shellfish at the University  and Ballard Markets.  Oysters, clams and mussels are all at their best during the short days of winter when “Everyday is a Muscadet” as the publicity posters from the Maine-et-Loire opine. Continue reading

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