It's an obvious thing to say, but the Pacific Northwest is rainy. So rainy, in fact, that I couldn't even take photos and visit my own neighborhood farmers' market in time to write this article! Apologies to the city where I live, the quaint and rural-wonderful Duvall, nestled east of Seattle, in the Cherry Valley, for not being properly represented in this Market Scene. And boo to angry droplets pouring from the sky, making it tough to take good photos! But fear not, I was able to head to the neighboring city of Redmond, which has a lovely market that we've been regularly visiting for several years, bringing forth fall colors and flavors!
Redmond is a suburb dotted with pine trees and remnants of its previous life as a quiet farming town. It may be known more as a bedroom community for Microsoft, but still has its moment of countrytime charm, especially as the chill of autumn creeps in and the hayride and corn mazes are starting, the pumpkin patches are getting ready to harvest, and signs for fresh-pressed cider are appearing.
The Redmond Saturday Market is located in the open gravel lot next to the Redmond Town Center, a large retail and business center in the downtown area of the city. It's open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and offers fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as prepared foods and craft items. They also have a small stage area, so it's a family-friendly place to bring the whole family (dogs, too) and listen to some music while shopping.
Because a lot of farmers' markets aren't open year-round, now is the best time to go and take advantage of the ones who allow craft goods vendors to sell their wares. The holidays are coming up, and it's such a nice opportunity to buy something locally-made. The iridescent glassware from Wileyware, a Seattle-based company that makes hand-blown glasses with a colorful base that changes in the light, is a festive way to add some sparkle to a plain glass of water. The handmade soaps from Paula's Soaps make a sweet and fragrant gift, with their natural and gentle products. Even edible items make for good gifts - a jar of apple jam from Hermitage Pantry by Tapert Studios and a bag of locally grown hazelnuts from Holmquist can be a sample of local flavor for a visitor to the area.
Much like the leaves beginning to turn a fiery hue, the seasonal harvest is showing off its own bright colors. The last of summer's stone fruit is coming out—there are still candy-sweet white nectarines and small, slightly oblong Italian plums dotting the fruit stands. Magana Farms from Sunnyside on the eastern part of the state, had piles of the late harvest plums, nectarines and tomatoes. Italian plums tend to have a milder flavor, not as sweet, and they are a nice filler for tarts or cobblers. The combination of the pleasantly sweet fruit and the bitter skin make it a nice balance for savory uses, for example, they can be split, pitted and roasted with a bit of goat cheese for a delicious snack or served over salad greens.
Also displayed on Magana Farms' table were piles of green beans, immediately making you picture green bean casseroles, as well as long, multicolored banana peppers. Piled high in bins, they jump out in bold Christmas reds and greens, plus a few in the pale yellow-green ones most people are probably used to seeing. Peppers of all sorts are hitting the tables, and it's nice to see them in a more natural color and shape, not the perfect, symmetrical, one-tone hue that most markets sell. Tonnemaker Hill Farm, a certified organic farm from Royal City, had a beautiful array of multicolored bell peppers. Their bumpy, irregular shapes were reminiscent of heirloom tomatoes, as was its multicolored skin, sometimes going from green, to purple, to red. The flavors of the peppers don't necessarily vary between the different colors, except the brighter tones are a little sweeter from being riper. The purple bell peppers are beautiful when enjoyed raw, mostly because when they cook down, the color fades into a less appealing brownish color (so if you happen to find purple peppers, save them for salads).
Tonnemaker had an impressive array of organic eggplant, including the long, thinner-skinned Japanese variety, the egg-shaped purple, the white "graffiti" eggplant, and the more oblong all-white eggplant. It's one of those vegetables that looks more beautiful raw, since the color will dull during cooking, but they're a great addition to stews and make good sides. Overcook them and they become mushy (which has inspired a community of eggplant haters) but prepared properly, they are great flavor sponges. The white eggplant is known for having a more solid texture and also less bitter, so it's a good variety to offer as an olive branch to the anti-eggplant crowd out there—don't hold it against the well-meaning aubergine, there's still good flavor to be had! Give eggplant a chance!
The vendors offering prepared foods and specialty items change periodically. It's been crepes, wood-fire pizza and tamales from one Saturday to the next. The latest were the goodfellas of Wiseguy Dinner Club, offering a new take on a hot Italian sub. They were drawing in the crowds with a giant pan of sizzling Italian sausage and peppers, and instead of pouring it over a split roll, they hollow out the center of a section of baguette and fill it with the spicy mixture. It makes for easier and less-messy eating while shopping.
A favorite all-season vendor has been Samish Bay Cheese, a Skagit County-based cheesemaker that, along with organic cheese, sells yogurt, eggs, and meat. They always have a unique array of different flavors and styles of cheese on display and available for sampling. They've made cheese dotted with fresh chives or dusted with bittersweet cocoa powder, plus they sell fresh cheeses like mozzarella and the wonderful squeak of fresh curds.
Because of the incoming cooler months, the more delicate items are hitting their "last call," so enjoy them in their peak flavor. Now is a good time to buy up items like tomatoes and fresh basil, and then prepare them for winter months by making tomato sauce or pesto. For the last of the summer fruit, stock up on your favorites and make preserves. It's a resourceful way to really cherish a changing season and save those flavors for the cold days and nights, when those bright flavors will be a happy respite from grey skies.
Items to look forward to: fall squash! Get ready for the incoming parade of butternut and acorn varieties, along with pumpkins. All are wonderful when cooked and blended into soups, or simply roasted and used as a side dish. If you have the chance to make your own pumpkin pie from scratch this year, I highly recommend it! Happy autumn wishes to all, and make the most of your farmers markets the rest of the year!
Info for Visiting the Market
Redmond Saturday Market
Every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 7730 Leary Way NE, Redmond WA 98052
Parking: Park your car at the Redmond Town Center mall lots and walk over. This market is dog friendly, so definitely bring your fuzzy friend!
For those who live in the area, upcoming events include: Redmond Saturday Market's Apple Cup on October 9, offering a taste of all the different Washington apples and the Howl-o-Ween pet costume parade on October 20, which is also the last day of the market.
Onions - Walla Walla
Squash - early fall, butternut, acorn and sugar pumpkins