Santa Barbara Farmers Market, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006

Santa Barbara farmers market 02-25-06e

This has got to be one of the best farmers markets in the world. Few places are as blessed with as vast a diversity of year-round growing regions within a few hours drive. The market has a culinarily sophisticated, deeply dedicated, upscale customer base numbering in the thousands.

And unlike far too many so-called “farmers markets,” this one is very well-managed and tightly regulated, assuring that “peddlers” selling low-cost, second-rate produce purchased from wholesale markets have been kept at bay. As a result, the growers who are members of this market appear to be doing very well, and it shows in the quality and phenomenal variety of the produce they offer for sale.Santa Barbara farmers market 02-25-06c

On this balmy, mid-winter day, I counted about 80 vendors selling countless dozens of varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables, as well as cut flowers and nursery plants. As always at this market, there were also a dozen or so musicians playing for spare change among the displays of produce.

– Mark Thompson

Santa Barbara St. at Cota St.
Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

slide show

What I Bought

citrus fruit(top) Tangelo, Bearss Lime, Meyer Lemon, Satsuma Tangerine, Kaffir Lime, Limequat (bottom) Yang Tsao Valencia, Cara Cara, Blood and Navel Oranges

Price: $1/lb. for Tangelo, Yang Tsa Valencia and Cara Oranges
$.75/lb. for Navel Orange
$2/3 lbs. Blood Oranges
$2.50/lb. Satsumas
$.10/each for Limequats
$.50/each for Kaffir Lime

There were a couple dozen different varieties of citrus fruit in the market today. I found room in my bag for a sample of 10 of them, including four different varieties of oranges, with which I plan to try out some of these dozen recipes featuring oranges. Every time I come to this market, with its many innovative growers, I also am always on the lookout for unusual fruits and vegetables that I’ve never tried before. Today, I wasn’t disappointed. One fruit I’ve never tried before, which I picked up today, is the limequat, one of many hybrids derived from kumquats. A quick Internet search led me to an article about the fruit, which reveals that it’s half-siblings include lemonquats, mandarinquats, citrangequats, and the calamondin. Its juice can stand in for lemon or lime juice, the fruit can be thinly sliced and used as a garnish or it can be pickled or preserved as marmalade.

Today, I also discovered kaffir limes, offered by the Coleman Family Farm. I’ve previously bought the leaves from this variety of lime at the Coleman table at the Santa Monica farmers market, but never the fruit. Kaffir lime leaves are widely used in Thai cuisine. The even more fragrant peel can be used in place of the leaves, according to Kasma Loha-Unchit, in her book It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions and the Joys of Thai Cooking.

The acrid juice, of which there is little in this thick-skinned fruit, is seldom used in cooking, Loha-Unchit writes. But the kaffir lime peel “with its high concentration of aromatic oils, is indispensable in many curry pastes and is one reason why Thai curries taste refreshingly unique. The zest also imparts a wonderful piquant flavor to such delectable favorites as fried fish cakes… Because it’s strong flavor can overpower the more subtle ones in a dish, the rind should be used sparingly, grated or chopped finely and reduced in a mortar with other paste ingredients until indistinguishable.”

You can find lots of fabulous Thai recipes featuring kaffir limes on Kasma Loha-Unchit’s Adventures in Thai Cooking & Travel Web site.

orange varieties

(clockwise from top left) Yang Tsao Valencia, Cara, Blood and Navel Oranges

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Kaffir Lime, Limequat

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(clockwise from top left) Sapotes, Bay and White Cherimoyas, Atemoya, Green Mangos
Price: $2-1.25/lb. for Sapotes
$2-1.25/lb. for Cherimoyas
$1.50/lb. for Atemoya

Due to quirks in the geography of the mountains that tumble down to the sea near Santa Barbara, there are south-facing canyons where subtropical fruits thrive, though this part of California is well north of the subtropics. As a result, cherimoyas are abundant, and cheap, in the Santa Barbara farmers market. Today, which is about mid-way through cherimoya season, they were on sale for as little as $1.25 per pound for smallish, cosmetically challenged fruits. In contrast, cherimoyas were going for $4 per pound in the San Diego farmers market that I visited last month. Sapotes were also cheap. I had never seen this unusual variety of mango before. They were grown in Ojai, a town sitting at the foot of snow-capped mountains not far from Santa Barbara–not exactly a place you’d normally expect to find locally grown mangoes.

lemon grass and herbs 022506i
(from left) Dill, Chinese Broccoli, Lemongrass, Flat-Leaf Parsley
Price: $1/bunch

I’ll use this lemon grass, along with kaffir limes that I bought today, in my own very simple but delicious version of Thai chicken soup. Basically, I boil a cut up fryer in a large pot of water with three or four stalks of lemon grass, cut diagonally and slightly crushed; ginger; garlic; a large onion, slivered; a bunch of chopped up cilantro; a bunch of chopped up Thai basil, if I can find it; and a dried hot pepper. When the chicken is done, I remove it from the broth, debone the meat, and return the meat to the spicy broth with any number of other diced vegetables that I happen to have on hand, such as potato, celery, fava or lima beans, shiitake mushrooms and/or water chestnuts. To learn more about lemon grass, of find plenty of other, more authentic Thai recipes using this ingredient, visit Thai chef Kasma Loha-unchit’s Web site or buy her book, It Rains Fishes. Or try this book, Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia’s Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali.

Rainbow Chard
Price: $2/bag

formosa beets
Formosa Beets
Price: $1.50/bunch

raisins 022506l
Price: $4/lb.