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September 2008

Santa Barbara Certified Farmers' Market - Saturday Morning

I have heard many people say that Southern California doesn't appear to have any seasons.  Our seasons do exist, and taking a trip to one of our Certified Farmers' Markets will confirm that it's harvest time.   You'll find these markets offer a feast for the palate - and the eyes, as well.


This morning, I went to the Saturday Farmers' Market, held at the corner of Cota and Santa Barbara Streets.

Santa Barbara is lucky to have two downtown farmers' markets each week. Tuesday evenings, State Street is blocked off, and farmers and merchants set up shop down the middle of the street. It is frequented by a lot of townspeople who stop in after work, tourists who meander through the stalls, students from Santa Barbara City College and UCSB who are in town after classes. Starting late in the day, the atmosphere is a little more subdued compared to the Saturday morning market.

On Saturdays, the whole town comes out, tourists flood in from everywhere, and the scene is colorful, lively, and fun.  Whether you live nearby, or are staying in town for a few days, the Farmers' Market is a wonderful weekly event for everyone to enjoy.  

This morning, I found tables full of tomatoes, from grape-sized, to cherry tomatoes, to the old-fashioned, heirloom beefsteak varieties.


Eggplants are plentiful now, including this exotic "Listada de Gandia".


Avocados are everywhere now - they are dark, heavy, and deliciously ripe.  Today, I couldn't resist a large jar of  this  rich, golden avocado honey.  I want to add it to a carrot cake I'm baking this afternoon. San Marcos Farms offers different honeys throughout the year, each flavored by the blossoms that are in season at the time of the harvest.


Although it's early autumn, there are still peaches, plums, and nectarines displayed, with sweet samples offered all around.


Fruit pies, specialty breads and baguettes make an appearance every Saturday throughout the year.


Gourmet vegetables are displayed with artistry, like these baby artichokes and squash blossoms. Chefs from many local restaurants shop today for the best of the market, and offer it as tonight's specialty.


One of the merchants displayed a table full of dragon fruit. It's impossibly beautiful. It's oval shaped, spiked, and an electric pink color with little tips of green. On the inside you'll find white translucent flesh, and tiny specks of seeds. The fruit has a clean, melon-like flavor.


There were many stands offering colorful flowers.  One merchant sold  huge, four-foot tall stalks of yellow ginger in bloom, alongside the zinnias, sunflowers, roses, and asters.


And, as Santa Barbara's climate is amenable to growing protea, both the South African and the Australian varieties, you will be sure to find several vendors with these exotic blooms. Today, there were buckets and buckets of them, in fantastic colors and every shade of pink, gray, lavender, silver,and garnet.


The protea  petals and leaves have myriad textures: fuzzy, serrated, sharp, and spiked.

Santa Barbara's mild climate allows us to grow fresh herbs throughout the year. At the Farmers' Market, you'll find basil, chives, chervil, mint, cilantro, fennel, chamomile, thyme and probably a dozen other varieties. I am certain you could find the perfect herb to enhance the flavor of your  favorite recipe. Sometimes, the herbs are used in lotions and soaps made by small boutique companies in town.

Also, in Santa Barbara, you will find local herbs used in "smudge sticks" that are sold at market. The Chumash, our area's indigenous people, have used local white sage as a healing ingredient in their smudge sticks, for more than 10,000 years.   

Today, health practitioners use the herbs, also.  In smudge sticks, the dried herbs are lit to create fragrant clouds of smoke. The smoke is used to enhance rituals performed for cleansing and healing.


I found "jujubes" at the market today. I have never tried them before, but found that they taste like crisp little apple slices. Used in traditional Chinese medicine, jujubes, or red dates (Zizyphus jujuba) are said to "tonify qi and strengthen the weak".


So, whether you want to find the perfect ingredients for your dinner tonight,


or find an ancient secret of healing or a tonic for the soul, the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers' Market is an event you must not miss.


Casa Covarrubias

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The families who lived in Santa Barbara's Covarrubias Adobe were the royalty of "Old California", and their stories, and those of the city, and of California itself,  still swirl within her walls.  Located at 715 Santa Barbara Street, the building is designated as a City, State, and National Registered Historic Landmark.  The architecture of the building and the style of the gardens that surround the home are representative  of the  "Colonial California" era .  Built in 1817, the Covarrubias Adobe is one of the oldest buildings in Santa Barbara.


Don Dominguez Carrillo, original owner of the adobe, was, according to his brother-in-law, Pio Pico, " of the most influential and capable men in California."  He was one of early Santa Barbara's elder statesmen, a wealthy land owner, and a community icon.  The home was built with  generous rooms that  had an airy, open feeling, including the  55' gran sala, or parlor, which was a perfect venue for many celebrations, family events, and community gatherings.  The beautiful landscaping and colorful gardens were legendary in the sparse and arid surroundings.

Senora Carrillo's brother, Pio Pico, was the governor of California during the very tumultuous last-days of Mexican rule. He was known to visit Santa Barbara often, and there were certain to have been many dramatic and historic conversations here. It is said that this was the last meeting place of the Mexican Congress before California came under the rule of the United States. 

Don Dominguez Carillo's daughter married Don Jose Maria Covarrubias, and they took possession of the home in 1847. The Covarrubias family lived in the home for more than 50 years.

In addition to his family duties, Don Jose became the first federal elector from American California. 

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In the WPA book entitled, Santa Barbara, published in 1941, the author relates a story about Don Jose's trip to Washington to deliver that first electoral vote for Franklin Pierce, our 14th president.  

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When he "arrived at the New York port, all of Tammany Hall was there to welcome him, and he spent $10,000 for wine and dinner parties on the visit." 

Since their earliest days in California, the Carrillo and Covarrubias families lived an almost theatrical existence.  They were known and feted wherever they went.  You may see authentic clothing, jewelry, artwork and other historic items from these and other local families of the era at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, located adjacent to the adobe.

At the start of the 20th century, the Covarrubias family had moved on, and the building was abandoned and neglected.  However, in 1924, it was rebuilt by members of a group known as  "Los Adobes de Los Rancheros".  The group was dedicated to restoring and preserving these priceless remnants of early California.

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Then, in 1941, a new group of  "royals" took possession of this adobe structure. They were the "Los Rancheros Vistadores" .  The group was started by Western artist, Edward Borein, who so eloquently captured the "Old West" in his drawings, paintings, and etchings.  Having witnessed the last days of the "wild west" first hand,  Borein longed to experience that earlier time again, and to introduce others to the beauties and thrills of life on the range.


He organized a group of men who gathered each May to herd cattle through the back country, to rope and ride and sleep under the stars.  Today, Los Rancheros Vistadores continues the tradition, with about 1,000 riders participating each year.  They ride on horses, in stagecoaches, and on old buckboards.  They are accompanied by country western singers, cowboy poets, and a  host of other entertainers, and, a well-stocked chuck wagon.  Their encampments are rustic but luxurious.  The list of members reads like a Who's Who of the world.  Ronald Reagan was a member, and today, an international group of  ranchers,  captains of industry, politicians, actors, magnates and potentates continue to ride into the sunset each May.


 The old structure has finally been handed down to the people who live in and visit the City of Santa Barbara, and it remains a touchstone of our historic beginnings as a California city.