san francisco: ferry building farmers market

December 4th, 2006

I try to get to the farmers market every Saturday or so, barring torrential rains or an insatiable need to laze around the house on a Saturday morning. While the Ferry Building farmers market in San Francisco is not the cheapest around, it’s still my favorite for its varied, high quality products, as well as the sheer fun of people watching. (There’s always an interesting array of locals and tourists, fancy city folk and laid back farmers.) The Ferry Building farmers market offers just about all the groceries you need, except perhaps, toilet paper. Among the goods: beautiful seasonal produce grown by local growers, freshly baked bread, fresh pastries, cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses both fresh and aged, grass-fed beef, pastured chickens, ducks, and eggs, the most delicious charcuterie around, nuts, jams, preserves, pickles, pasta, beans, fresh tortillas and tamales, and even wool yarn and blankets.

The purveyors sell their wares outdoors in front of and behind the ferry building all year round. The ferry building itself houses food-related shops such as a mushroom shop, meat shops and delis, an organic pastry shop, a chocolate shop, an ice creamery, an olive oil shop, an excellent cheese shop, as well as a combination wine shop and tasting bar, a tea room, caviar and oyster bars, and several very good restaurants.

The ferry building and the farmers market surrounding it is teeming with deliciousness that is constantly changing. The ebb and flow of the seasons bring herald new produce, which in turn inspire chefs, jam-makers, sausage-makers, fishmongers, bakers, pastry chefs. New stalls sprout up selling something new and different. And it’s quite common to see growers exchanging goods and sharing ideas. This is a living organism—a supermarket is dead in comparison. (Those of you who’ve been to a lively “shouk” or “souk” can attest to that!)

This past Saturday as I started my weekly round of shopping, it occurred to me that I had never photographed the farmers market I most often frequent. I’ve blogged about markets in Stockholm and New York, why not the local joint? And so I did. The following photos capture most of the foods I bought this week, and illustrating something of my favorite purveyors along the way. Bear in mind, I only captured a fraction of the market and its remarkable bounty. It would take several months of blogging, or perhaps a book, to document the market in its entirety.

mariquita farms

Mariquita Farm, one of my favorite vegetable growers. I love the little cards they pin to the vegetable crates explaining the variety of each vegetable and suggestions for preparation.

mariquita farms 2

Bodega Peruvian goat cheeses are delicate and light. I typically get the cilantro serrano chile spread and some fresh feta-style farmer’s cheese.

Bodega Goat Cheeses

Della Fattoria sells European style breads baked in wood-fired brick ovens, as well as pastries such as cupcakes and cookies.

This is what’s left at the Fatted Calf stand in the early afternoon. Everything sells out fast, so it’s best to place your order in advance through their website (which, luckily, I remembered to do). Those saucissons secs in the jar are great for snacking.

Spring Hill produces excellent butter, often churned the day before. They usually offer tastes of all their cheeses, so their stand gets very crowded.

Stone Free Farm is where I like to buy greens such as chard, spinach, baby bok choy, and mountain spinach.

Marin Sun Farms is famous for its very fresh pastured eggs, which are typically sold out by 11am. A carton of their eggs is like a small multicultural egg community, with different sizes, colors (from white to grey, brown, or pale green), and variations in shape. They also sell some excellent grass-fed beef and lamb. The Marin Sun stand is conveniently located adjacent to the Hayes Street Grill stand.

The farmer’s daughter recommended Huckleberry potatoes as her favorite variety. I bought Huckleberries, Purple Vikings, and Katahdins from Little Organic Farms. The potatoes are dry-farmed, a method that results in more flavorful produce.

My favorite little apple stand (I’ve forgotten their name!) has a number of unusual varieties such as “Black Twig” and “Wickson.” Wicksons are very small apples, only about an inch and a half in diameter (about 4.5 cm), perfect for snacking or cooking with meat or poultry. I love the old-fashioned wooden crates in which the apples are displayed, and the explanatory text for each variety. You can also buy apple tree twigs, apple syrup, and cider at the apple stand.

I’m a tough customer when it comes to olive oil. Having lived in Israel for twelve years, I was spoiled by a relatively affordable selection of good Mediterranean olive oils. In the Middle East, spicy olive oils tend to be popular, as opposed to milder, buttery olive oils. I suspect this has to do with the variety of olives used, or perhaps their ripeness at harvest. Consequently, I’ve had difficulty adjusting my palate to the admittedly excellent California olive oils. Bariani is an exception. The flavor of their olive oil has a powerful flavor that reminds me of the dominant olive oils beloved in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

G.L. Alfieri Farms sells an incredible variety of nuts and nut products, including nut butters, chocolate covered nuts, and nut brittle. The bittersweet walnut brittle had me hooked on the first taste.

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