Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008
At the market itself, what I found when I arrived shortly before 2:30 was a growing but orderly crowd of reputable looking foodies, waiting patiently for the opening bell to ring so that they could start buying the fabulous array of produce on display from the region’s many bountiful farms.
– Mark Thompson
What I Bought
heirloom tomatoes and dry-farmed Early Girls (right)
I arrived in Santa Cruz at the peak of the harvest of a local specialty – dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes. Enterprising farmers in the cool coastal plains and foothills around Santa Cruz, first popularized these tomatoes more than a decade ago. By now, they have an avid following in San Francisco Bay region farmers markets. The cognoscenti consider them the most intensely flavored tomatoes of all, even better than heirloom varieties, and get into fervent debates over whether Quetzal or Dirty Girl or some other farm has the best dry-farmed Early Girls.
Getting fussed over like that is quite a feat for a tomato that is a hybrid variety, with a nondescript round shape and colored ordinary red. The Early Girl is the sort of tomato that, in short, is usually disdained by the food cognoscenti as a “supermarket tomato” and passed over in favor of heirloom tomatoes, that are believed to be inherently better tasting.
The farmers who have perfected the technique of dry-farming Early Girls have proven to many that a hybrid can be the tastiest tomato of all, if grown properly.
An article in Field Notes, a newsletter published by the agroecology program at the University of California in Santa Cruz, explains how Early Girls are dry-farmed on an on-campus demonstration farm. “Dry farmed means the plants that produced your tomatoes have not been watered since May 2, when they were transplanted into the field. Their roots grew deeper to follow the moisture as the soil dried down. The idea behind dry farming is to produce a tomato with more concentrated flavor, and save water to boot.”
eggplant (top) and radicchio (below)
Price: $3/lb. for radicchio
plums, a nectarine and a pluot
currant grapes (left) and crimson grapes