The Austin Chronicle

Farmers’ Market Report: March 29-30, 2014

By Kate Thornberry, March 28, 2014, 11:00am, On the Range

The quality and variety of produce at the farmers’ markets is unparalleled right now. Asparagus, young spinach, golden beets, bunching onions, strawberries, baby carrots, celery tops, radishes, kale, parsnips, lettuces, and more are all vigorous and without blemish.

It is hard to say which are more beautiful, the Golden beets or the Chioggia beets (Chioggia are the ones that appear striped inside). Of course, the star of the farmers’ markets right now is young asparagus. Our locally grown, freshly picked asparagus has a more appealing flavor than the shipped-in kind at most supermarkets; the flavor is more concentrated, and fresher. McKemie’s HomeGrown is the largest supplier of local asparagus, and last weekend he sold at the Barton Creek Market on Saturday and the Mueller Market on Sunday. There was also (briefly) locally grown asparagus for sale at the Sunset Valley Market. If you want to try it, I can’t emphasize this enough: Get there early. Even in wet springs (which this year’s forecast has not delivered on yet), Central Texas does not produce enough asparagus to supply even the entire farmers’ market crowd.

There was a spot of bother last week concerning the Pink Lady apples from Washington State that the JBG stands were selling; even though they were clearly marked as being an organic import from the Northwest, many farmers and market organizers agreed that they weren’t local enough. Farmer Johnson has pulled them from his stands, though he will continue to sell G & S Organic citrus from the Rio Grande Valley.

This brings up the question of expectation. What do farmers’ market shoppers expect of area markets? One primary expectation is that the crops for sale be locally grown, and that meats be locally raised. This is true at all area farmers’ markets, though the definition of “local” can stretch all the way to the coast and up the Panhandle at times. (Other than the apples in question, of course. Though to be fair, they were clearly labelled as an out-of-state specialty item.) Another important point: Though the majority of farms and ranches follow organic, sustainable practices, not all of them do. If it is important to you, ask. There are a few farmers who farm conventionally, especially when growing certain vulnerable crops.

When it comes to the sellers of prepared foods, some primarily use local ingredients, and some don’t. The ones who do, like Dai Due Butcher Shop, usually get more coverage in this Report than the ones who don’t. For some vendors, however, it just isn’t possible; bakers in particular could never obtain enough locally produced sugar, flour, chocolate, nuts, or butter to make their products.

Naturally, there are many prepared products sold at the farmers’ markets made from ingredients that just don’t grow around here: locally roasted coffees, teas, chocolates, etc. The bar for vendors to clear is that they must make what they sell, and that the quality be good. Different markets have different rules, as well; the Sustainable Food Center Markets discourages vendors from selling anything grown outside of a 150 mile radius, the Mueller and Cedar Park Markets are somewhat more lenient, and the Barton Creek Farmers Market allows the sale of some Atlantic seafood, such as lobster and Scottish salmon, as long as it is sustainable and locally prepared. Getting back to what is in season: Spinach is looking simply marvelous right now, and with temperatures warming up rapidly, that won’t last long. It is no longer baby spinach, yet neither is it big and tough. Right now, it is just perfect. Another crop that will vanish as soon as temperatures heat up is celery. Last year Finca Pura Vida Farm had wonderful, enormous heads; that crop is gone now, and no one has stepped in to fill that gap, as celery is one of the most water-intensive vegetables to grow. However, JBG has celery tops, and they are the next best thing. Their celery flavor is strong, so you don’t need as much. Use the stems in salads and the leaves in stock or soups.

 Markley Family Farm will be bringing their spring crop of strawberries to the Barton Creek Market this Saturday. When I tasted their strawberries right before the first killing frost of winter, they were so intensely flavored. These berries are really wonderful, and are never sprayed with pesticide or fungicide. The Downtown SFC Market has a great new vendor, El Cruz Ranch. A small operation, El Cruz raises Alpine goats, turkeys, ducks, chickens, parrots, and vegetables. Last Saturday they brought not only chicken eggs but also duck eggs and turkey eggs to market. Flowers are coming back in to the markets, too. Over at the Mueller Market, Prickly Pair Farm has Texas anemones, ranunculus, and delphiniums. I saw this magnificent bouquet for sale Downtown. The Sunset Valley Market has a new vendor too: Eden’s Cove Farm. Eden’s Cove specializes in raising large black hogs, which they then render into chops, sausages, and bacon. The hogs live a natural out-of-doors life in family groups and are fed organic vegetables and brewers’ grain. At the market last weekend, Eden's Cove had a nice variety of sausages and cuts, but according to their website, it is best to order online and just pick their pork up at the market, because they frequently sell out.

Speaking of selling out, even though I told my readers to order chicken from Dewberry Hills Farm on Friday to be sure to get any, I myself wandered up to their table at the Sunset Valley Market at ten o’clock in the morning, thinking I would buy a chicken. Ha! They were already sold out and only had stock bones left. I’ll take my own advice more seriously from now on.

Things are jumpin’ over at the HOPE Farmers’ Market: Windy Hill Farm, already one of my favorite farms, will have goose eggs this Sunday. Goose eggs are enormous and very rich (like geese themselves); there is nothing better for making quiche or custards.

 Countryside Farm will have whole Muscovy ducks, in addition to ample supplies of rabbit and a limited amount of duck breasts. They will also have their usual line of charcuterie.  Skull and Cakebones Bakery will be bringing their Persian Rose Cupcake to HOPE this weekend, after its debut last Sunday. The Persian Rose has a pistachio and rosewater infused cake, topped with vanilla saffron frosting.

 Southern Traditions Grass-fed Meats plan to bring T-Bone steaks, short ribs, Filet Mignon, ground beef, strip loin steaks, and lamb chops to market this Sunday.

Yard to Market, one of HOPE’s newest startup vendors, will be bringing lettuce, chard, kale, beets, carrots, and green onions.

 Curious Confections, (in addition to butter croissants, Pain au Chocolat and Hot Cross Buns), will be bringing Apple Hand Pies, Samoa Doughnuts, Ginger Scones, Peanut Butter and Jelly Marshmallows, Chocolate Fudge, Speculoos Cookies, Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Biscotti, and English Flapjacks. English Flapjacks are not pancakes, but are instead oat bars made with golden syrup. Although I don’t believe any are yet big enough for sale, Farmer Brenton Johnson sent in a photo of his first artichoke of the year. Normally we would be awash in artichokes by now, but this year's late freezes took out 90% of the artichoke bushes. Two Happy Children Farm was hit particularly hard, as they put many acres of artichokes in this fall. Chris Long, a local potter who sells his mysteriously modern handmade pieces at the HOPE Market, sent me this photo of his new line. Inclement weather interfered with my own ability to get a good shot of his work; you really have to see it to appreciate how seamlessly he fuses a mid-century flair into what would otherwise be rustic ware.

Dai Due is showcasing spring onions and wild boar again this weekend, along with green garlic and rutabagas. All of Dai Due’s boudins will be available this weekend, including Boudin Blanc, made with chicken, cream, and breadcrumbs, and Boudin Noir, made with duck skin, onion, mesquite beans, and dried chiles.

Breakfast & Lunch at the Market 

Suckling Pig Sandwich with country pate, chicken liver mousse, pea shoot mayonnaise, and pickled radish;

Rabbit Tinga Taco with 1015 onions, cilantro, and chipotle-carrot salsa;

BBQ Boar Sandwich with bread and butter pickles, 1015 onions, and pickled egg;

Rutabaga Poutine with duck confit, 1015 onions, cheese curds, fried duck egg, wild onions, and chorizo gravy;

Sprouted Wheat Pancake with strawberry, cultured butter, and dried lemon;

Cafe a la Olla and Carrot and Lemon Agua Fresca

See you at the Markets!

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