Barbara Farmers Market
Santa Barbara St. at Cota St. / map
Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Market Notes: Folks, I've been to dozens of
farmers markets in California and if I had to pick one as the best
of all, this would be it. The surrounding countryside, bathed
in a temperate, classically Mediterranean climate, shares some of the credit.
Good, tough management that prevents peddlers from squeezing real
farmers out also helps make this market a spectacular success.
are probably more microclimates within half an hour's drive of
downtown Santa Barbara than in any other region on earth. A large
number of entrepreneurial market farmers have taken full advantage
of the climate to grow an astonishing array of produce, including
many items that you'll never find in a supermarket.
Literally hundreds of varieties of fruits, vegetables and
flowers are on display at this time of year. Today, I
reluctantly pass up tomatoes, which are still in abundance, and
other more conventional summer produce and gravitate toward some of
the more exotic choices, such as subtropical fruits, available here. The market also has great street
music, not to mention a wonderful setting right in Santa Barbara's
inviting downtown, within walking distance of the foothills and the
Mark Thompson, publisher of this Web site
Brussel sprouts on the stalk
What I Bought:
The climate in some pockets of farmland around Santa Barbara is
identical to the climate of the highlands of the Andes Mountains in
Peru. That's why you'll find South American crops such as pepinos
(above) and feijoas (below) on sale at the farmers market. Pepinos,
which taste like canteloupes though they aren't melons at all but are a
distant relative of the tomato, are a specialty of Swift Subtropicals, a
farm near San Luis Obispo. A number of farmers
sell feijoas, also called pineapple guava (though they are unrelated to
true guavas). They've got a citrusy tang with an unusual, tropical
Price: $1.25/lb. or 5lb for $5
known as "cactus pears," these are the fruits that grown
on prickly pear cactus. I had never tried them before and so
when I came across these today, at this price, I thought, "Why
not?" The verdict: Not bad. Scooped out with a spoon,
their pulp is sweet with a pleasing, mild taste. But they're
quite full of hard little seeds that you've got to spit out.
Would I buy them again? Sure -- for a conversation piece at a
dinner party. But they won't become a regular part of my diet.
Price: 25 cents each.
Three colors of beets
I'm going to make beets for Thanksgiving so I load up on three colors
of medium-sized specimens.
Price: Three bunches (with about four
medium-sized beets per bunch) for $4.
Lemongrass and Thai
I'm not sure what I'll do with these
-- maybe try to make a sauce of some sort. The price is right so why
not give them a try.
Price: $1 for this bundle of lemongrass
and $1 for the bundle of peppers still on the branch.
The hachiyas (which must get mushy-soft before they're edible) are in
back and the fuyus (crunchy, like an apple) are in front. .
The man who
sold this to me said treviso is the preferred variety
He also had a rounder variety which he said is the best
choice for use
in salad. Since I don't particularly like radicchio in
salad, I bought the treviso. A single head of radicchio can cost
$4 or $5 at the grocery store, so this is a bargain.
Price: $1 each.
I rarely buy flowers at a farmers
market, primarily because I'm always too loaded down
with fruits and vegetables and don't have a hand to
spare for a bouquet of flowers. But the Santa
Barbara area is one of the flower
growing capitals of the world, as is readily
apparent at this farmers market. So I can't pass
up these gorgeous small bouqets. I drop them and
my first load of other purchases off at my car, parked a
couple of blocks away, and return to the market for
another round of shopping.
Price: $2 for a small bouquet (two bouquets