Originally written 8/2/15.
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I was supposed to go on a cave tour with my friend Abbey last Saturday (which would have been quite an adventure, since I’m claustrophobic), but we had to cancel: heavy rains in the spring and early summer had flooded the deeper parts of the cave, and the tours had been suspended until further notice.
Abbey suggested that we go to the Boulder Farmers’ Market instead. Since I’d never been to a farmers’ market, I said OK, although I wasn’t sure that I could write it up as an adventure. I mean, it was just going to be people selling vegetables, right? How adventuresome could that be?
So it was eye-opening to actually see the Boulder Farmers’ Market when we got there. The Boulder Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest farmers’ markets in Colorado, taking place every Saturday along the picturesque Boulder Creek from April through November, and adding Wednesday evenings from May through October for good measure. It’s one of the top markets, too, having been named as one of America’s 50 Best Farmers Markets this year by Cooking Light Magazine.
It was huge. I didn’t count the number of tents, but it was dozens and dozens, arranged in the shape of a giant letter F along 13th Street. And yes, the majority of the booths were selling vegetables, but it was much, much more than the expensive hipster fruit stand I had imagined.
For starters, there was a lot more for sale than just produce. We saw, among many other things:
Grassfed meats for sale, including beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat. You could even pre-order whole pigs or sheep, which made me wonder how on earth you would get that to your house (and where would you store it?).
Every kind of bread imaginable, including lots of gluten-free options.
Hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, tapenade, kimchi, jelly, jam, marmalade, and any other kind of sauce or spread you can think of.
Lots of local honey (some of which came home with me).
Organic potted plants, including flowers and herbs.
Amazing local goat cheese (some of which also came home with me).
A tea-tasting area in a pagoda.
A booth offering frozen gluten-free vegan meals.
A booth sponsored by the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, which had a stuffed mountain lion on the table.
A booth advertising a swimming school.
A booth selling granola, which made me giggle, because a “granola” is also a Denver word for a Boulder hippie.
A booth where they would sharpen knives for you. I especially loved this booth, because it reminded me strongly of the tinkers of old England and Ireland, who used to travel around repairing pots and sharpening knives for people in rural areas.
There was also a whole section of food trucks, where you could get almost any kind of food you wanted, from mac ‘n cheese with bacon to locally-grown vegetarian fare, from Korean bibimbap to Argentinian empanadas. Once you picked up your food, you sat down with it at a long series of picnic tables under a central tent where every seat was taken and you had to watch your elbows carefully to avoid jostling your neighbor.
A series of bands on a stage at the far end of the food area entertained you while you ate. While we were enjoying lunch, it was a folky duo playing covers of Neil Young and cracking jokes between songs.
That wasn’t the only musical entertainment. There was a man in the middle of the market playing a lap steel guitar, which I’d actually never seen before. Like the sharpening booth, it reminded me very much of old times, since it almost seemed more like a descendant of the dulcimer or hurdy-gurdy than a relative of the modern guitar.
People-watching was excellent at the market, too. Most people were dressed like I was: t-shirts, shorts, tennies or sandals, and hats to keep the hot summer sunshine from burning the backs of their necks. But there were a few people who were dressed up like they were going to a special event. One woman was wearing platform heels and a long-sleeved, gauzy romper that was so short I had to stop myself from going over and tugging it down for her.
At the other end of the spectrum, there was an older gent dressed like a mountain man, complete with a long trenchcoat and beaver hat. Apparently there’s often a guy there known as Earth Man as well who wears a cape decorated like a globe, but we didn’t see him. That’s probably just as well, since I guess he’s given to cornering the unwary and offering to exchange “Earth bucks” with you for actual money.
But the real star of the market was the produce. If it grows in Colorado, it was there, in bags, baskets, and glorious piles of color: arugula, chard, carrots, turnips, potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, basil, beets, plums, apricots, and more. And of course, the famous peaches from Palisade, just finally coming into season and smelling like the ambrosia of the gods.
Some of the booths were from small farms specializing in just one or two kinds of produce. Other booths were huge and diverse, using three or four tents to house all the different goods they offered. Many booths, from the produce vendors to the cheese makers to the hot sauce sellers, offered samples, which was the best marketing technique ever. I think either Abbey or I bought something at every tent where they gave us a sample.
At all the booths, once the beautiful piles were gone, signs would spring up in their place saying “Sold Out.” So if you wanted arugula, for instance, you had to scoop it up before the stock ran out.
I had brought $80 in cash with me, since most of the booths dealt in cash exclusively and I didn’t know exactly how much I was going to buy. I spent every penny of my $80, and I probably could have spent another $80 if I’d been foolish enough to bring more. Luckily, I love vegetables, and I made some delicious recipes with the things I bought. I’ll include the recipes and pictures at the bottom.
The Boulder Farmers’ Market was incredible—the closest thing to a medieval market or middle eastern bazaar that I’ve ever seen in modern America. The food that I got there was a little more expensive than what I get at my local grocery store, but it was amazingly fresh, and the flavors were bright and vibrant in a way that I could hardly believe. And, on top of getting delicious food, I was supporting local small businesses. I am definitely a farmers’ market convert, and I can’t wait to go again.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup rice
2 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
1 bunch chard
2 cups Greek yogurt
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Salt to taste
Rinse the chard leaves and separate the leaves from the stem. Put the leaves aside. Chop the stems into bite-size pieces.
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pieces of chard stem and sauté about 1 minute. Then add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated with olive oil.
Add the water or broth and salt to taste and turn the heat up to high. Bring the water to boiling, then cover, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, cut or tear the chard leaves into small pieces.
When the rice is done, uncover the pan and add the yogurt. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the yogurt to a boil, stirring continuously. Once the yogurt is boiling, add the chard leaves and stir continuously until the chard is wilted, 1-2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: I usually add chicken to my sarnapur, and this time I added mushrooms from the farmers’ market as well. I cook the chicken separately and add it at the end; I washed and chopped the mushrooms and added them at the same time as the chard stems.
Beet, Goat Cheese, and Arugula Salad
Get a mix of regular beets and golden beets for a beautiful, colorful dish!
6 medium beets
4 ounces goat cheese
½ cup walnuts
4 cups arugula (you can use more or less than this depending on how big a salad you want)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or basalmic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop off the tops of the beets and put them in a saucepan with some salt and enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and boil the beets for 20 minutes until tender.
Rinse the beets off in cold water and let them cool for a few minutes. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the skins off with a peeler or paring knife. Then cut the beets into bite-size pieces.
Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the beets and let marinate for 15 minutes to 2 hours.
When the beets are ready, toss the arugula with the beets and then divide among 4 plates. Top with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: you’re actually supposed to toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, but that’s such a pain in the butt that I usually skip it. I like the walnuts just fine untoasted.
This time, I also added new blue potatoes from the farmers’ market. If you want to add potatoes, you need 1 medium or 2 small potatoes per serving. Put them in a saucepan along with a generous pinch of salt, cover them with water, and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and boil for 15 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes, and when they are cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces and marinate along with the beets. I usually leave the skins on potatoes, but, in this case, the skins came off by themselves when I boiled them.
Finally, you can add cooked chicken to the salad if you want some protein. Enjoy!