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Market Report
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Nov. 17, 2001

The Market:
Santa Barbara Farmers Market
Santa Barbara St. at Cota St. / map
Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
(805) 962-5354

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.  
  There 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 beach.

Market-Goer: 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 aftertaste.  

Price: $1.25/lb. or 5lb for $5

Price: $1/lb.


Also 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 peppers

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.

Hachiya and Fuyu Persimmons

The hachiyas (which must get mushy-soft before they're edible) are in back and the fuyus (crunchy, like an apple) are in front. .

Price: $1/lb.

Treviso radicchio

The man who sold this to me said treviso is the preferred variety for grilling.  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.

Mixed flowers

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 pictured above).

Copyright 2001-2002 In Season