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.