My mom’s family lives in the Bay Area and other parts of California, so for the last 20 years, we’ve had a Thanksgiving tradition of meeting approximately halfway between San Francisco and my hometown of Philomath, Oregon and renting a house in Northern California for the long weekend. When Henry started coming along with me in 2005, the two of us started a new annual tradition of touring the local farmers’ markets and farm stands and buying up several hundred dollars and several hundred pounds of food.
Though I go to our local farmers’ market almost every week during the summer, I rarely ever buy anything. Almost anything sold at the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market we can grow, make, trade for, or get directly from friends. The produce at our farmers’ market is beautiful but not that exciting for us. The Chico Farmers’ Market, on the other hand, is pretty thrilling for us Oregonian fruit and vegetable nerds.
Chico, California in November didn’t seem all that different from what we left behind in Oregon until we walked into the farmers’ market, and then the contrast was obvious. While there were several booths of winter squash, greens, apples, and other “normal” (to us) produce, but there are also tables piled high with citrus, pomegranates, persimmons, almonds, and many other long-growing-season goods.
I do like chayotes, but we opted not to buy any on this trip because there was so much other good stuff.
It was weird to see pomegranates mounded next to winter squash…
…and good looking sweet potatoes next to leeks.
For some reason, I never got a good photo of all the persimmons, both Fuyu (non astringent) and Haychia (astringent). Henry bought a box of Fuyus and cut a couple buckets of Hachiyas off the tree next door to the rental house.
We’ve got walnuts in Oregon, too, but they sure grow a lot of them in the Chico area.
I was totally ready to breeze past the cheese vendor, but Henry, who will strike up a conversation with anyone, was munching on samples with a wheel of cheese in hand when I got back from dropping something off in the truck. We ended up taking home not one but three baby wheels of Blondies’ Best, a nutty raw-milk gouda-type cheese with a natural rind from Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co. (also on Facebook). The vendor, (also the owner and cheesemaker) was a pleasant woman who gave us a whole run-down on her cheesemaking process and even invited us to her place for a tour (which we sadly declined because we had other plans for the day). I was happy to hear that her cheese, which is mostly distributed in California, was recently selected for a Williams-Sonoma Three Months of Cheese package.
The Chico area is a little too far north to be a major avocado producing region, but several booths had some. We bought a few Duke avocados (along with a bunch of pomegranates) from Chaffin Family Orchards (also on Twitter). We’ve driven all the way out to their farm in years past, and it is pretty spectacular with crazy mesa and canyon topography, acres and acres of olive trees, and a great farm stand at the end of a gravel road.
We probably brought home about 80 or so pomegranates of various sizes. They’re kind of a pain to eat, but the flavor is intense, and they’re supposed to be chock-full of antioxidants and other nutrients. Some were cracked, but we’ll sort those out to eat first.
Even though we sometimes see this kind of kale/chard mix in Oregon, it was too pretty to pass without taking a photo.
Same with the radishes.
The first year we ever visited the Chico Farmers’ Market, we bought a ton of stuff and had to keep hauling bags and boxes to the car. After the third or fourth trip past this one booth, the guy came out and stopped us. “Who are you?” he wanted to know. We explained that we were just overzealous Oregonians, not some kind of restaurant owners or produce distributers. We got to chatting a little, and found out that his name was Greg Massa, and he owned an organic rice operation called Massa Organics (also on Facebook). We bought a 20-pound bag of rice that year, and since then, we always buy at least one bag per year, and we never buy rice at the store. Two years ago, we also came home with some Massa organic roasted almonds, and I swear they were the best almonds I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. I had to limit myself to just two pounds of roasted almonds this year because they’re kind of expensive but worth every penny.
Speaking of splurge-worthy deliciousness, it doesn’t get much better than tree-ripened, sun-dried apricots from Apricot King (also on Facebook). Last year, the vendor told us that his parents have a big apricot orchard in Southern California, and they send the dried fruit up for him to sell at the market. Along with several bags of slabs, this year we got a little bonus bag of chocolate-dipped dried apricots, which were dangerously good.
We had to get some lemongrass for ourselves and a friend who loves the stuff.
Every year we bring home several one-pound bags of pistachios from Pulliam’s Pistachios. We eat a ton at home, but they also make the best gifts. Pulliam’s only sells cracked nuts, so not only are they fresh, salty, and satisfying, but you’ll never feel like you’re going to chip a tooth trying to crack stubborn closed shells. They ship all over the country, so give them a call if you need nuts (530-345-8585).
I love almond butter so much it’s kind of inappropriate. That’s good because almond butter is healthy but bad because it has a ton of calories and is expensive. Nevertheless, we came home with two quart jars from Alvarado Farms, and I will thoroughly enjoy it.
You don’t see daikon in Oregon too often, probably because there’s not much of a market for it. I thought they were cool, but we left them behind.
This is kind of ridiculous, and I’ve been giving Henry a hard time about it (because we have gallons of our own), but he insisted on buying a pound of honey because it was made from yellow starthistle nectar. Starthistle is a majorly nasty invasive species that’s all over in California and elsewhere. I haven’t tried the honey yet, but I’m curious to see what it tastes like.
We didn’t actually buy any eggs, but the mound of eggs in a pile of straw display was kind of intriguing.
Henry was so excited about this coffee stand that I had to share a few photos. First off, each customer gets his or her own drip stand with the coffee of choice (“strong” or “stronger”). Paper cups fit into the little holes below, and hot water was poured into the Melittas.
The proprietor was a real character, giving everyone a hard time in a joking kind of way…
…but the craziest thing about the whole operation is that it was on a bike and could be ridden around town (though she had to park and set thing up to make coffee, so no sales during transit).
On the whole, the Chico Farmers Market is fundamentally different than the Corvallis Saturday Farmers Market not just because of the diversity of products they offer. It seemed to us like many of the vendors in Chico grow mostly for wholesale or wider distribution, while in Corvallis there are quite a few direct market farms who sell the vast majority of their wares at farmers’ markets. The bar is also set quite a bit lower in Chico in terms of the effort that goes into displays. The market overall looks great, but many booths are composed of cardboard boxes or plastic tubs and card tables. In Corvallis, the displays are elaborate with lots of specialty tablecloths and equipment built or bought specifically for showing off vegetables. Because of these differences, it seems like the prices in Chico are generally lower or at least not prohibitively expensive. We did leave several hundred dollars behind split between about 10 different booths, but we really felt good about the quantity and quality of everything we took home.
We also hit up a couple farm stands in Orland on the way back to the rental house, but I’ll tell you about them in another post. Right now, I’m headed off to bed, so I can get some sleep before I wake up early to start a long day of shipping out the 43 cutting boards that were purchased out of my Etsy shop in the time we were away. (Ack!) I’m very happy to be home but a little stressed out about the wild ride coming in the next three weeks before the Holiday shopping season comes to a close. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend and won’t be as crazy busy as I am this week. Good night!