Archives for posts with tag: farmers market

Carole and I had the best intentions. We were going to work up a sweat power-walking around the National Arboretum, admiring the early spring daffodils and hyacinths. We were thwarted outside the gardens by a sign that announced: closed while they move their offices.

It was cloudy and cold, so we scrapped our hiking plans and headed over to Washington’s famous Eastern Market. After warming up with some coffee, we wandered through all the booths. Outside, we admired the pillow covers made from remnants of old Turkish rugs. Inside the renovated market, we ogled the fresh-rendered meat and fish.

Then we cruised the vegetable vendors and stopped in our tracks in front of a table of beets. $3.50 for a bunch. This was not your average “bunch.” It was 7-8 big beets per bunch, a real bargain. We asked the vendor where the beets came from. “Soutxrhymp” he said. “Southern California?” I asked. Almost indignant, he said, “No ma’am. South Carolina. We get our first vegetables of the season from South Carolina and then gradually move north with the local crops.”

Carole and I each bought a bunch, and went home to make borscht, a wonderful treat on a cold late March day. I never make the same recipe twice, but it’s a favorite of Sam’s, so I do make it several times a year. Here’s a base recipe sans cabbage. What’s yours?

Adaptable Borscht

4-5 medium beets or 3 large

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

15 oz tomatoes, pureed

2-3 cups beef or chicken stock

1 T vinegar

Leftover shreds of beef or pork (or skip it, which I often do)

Fresh or dried dill, salt, pepper

Boil the beets until tender and peel when cool. Meanwhile, slowly sauté the onion until translucent over medium-low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.

In a food processor or blender, roughly grind the beets in 1 cup of stock to the consistency you like. We like a few chunks of beets to remind us where the borscht came from; some people like it pureed smooth. This may require two batches. Add the beets to the sauce pot with the onions. Puree the tomatoes a bit, and add them to the pot too. Then add the remaining stock, vinegar, meat (if desired), and enough stock to loosen to your desired consistency. Add dried dill, salt, pepper to taste. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of plain yogurt. Or not.

This will hold us until our own beet crop comes in next summer. Which seems like a long way off when it’s 35 degrees.

At the corner of Ocean and Arizona streets, as waves from the Pacific crashed to the shore below us, my sister Sara and I turned to our left. We stopped dead in our tracks and fell uncharacteristically silent. Behold, the magnificence of the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

We slowly walked its length, our heads swiveling left, then right, agog at the rainbow-colored bounty. Neither of us had ever seen a farmers market of such breadth and depth. And she’s seen a lot of farm-fresh food, having adopted California as her home two decades ago. My own neighborhood farmers market, in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va., suddenly seemed … inadequate.

A bit of history. The Santa Monica Farmers Market was established in 1981 and now boasts 700 vendors, all certified as California growers. Their booths sprawl across a dozen city blocks. The market draws local chefs as well as hungry visitors like us, sampling a little of this, a little of that.

Avocados grown in nearby Morro Bay. Pistachios from just up the road, flavored with lemon chives or habaneros. Almonds with a hint of orange rind or rosemary. A cornucopia of peppers, from serranos to pablanos and hatch.

Santa Monica Farmers Market

Asian pears, bosc pears, seckel pears. Dates still on the stem – I didn’t even know they grow in clusters, like brussel sprouts (also available, of course). A dozen types of peaches. Apples too. Mounds of squash blossoms. Fresh-picked pomegranates, $1 each.  Three kinds of juicy clementines, each with a distinctive flavor. Melons, dragon fruit (!), giant grapefruit, oh my.

We bought bags full of food, and feasted for lunch. You leave this market inspired, whether you’re a restaurant chef or an amateur.

We had briefly cruised the small Sunday market for some fruit to nosh during our visit, and our son told us then: Wait, the Wednesday market is world-renowned, for good reason. He’s a smart kid, that one.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.


I usually rely on our local farmers market for tomato plants. Vendors from Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley offer scores of varietals, from hardy hybrids like Big Boy to heirlooms like German Johnson.

Then Greenstreet Gardens came to my neighborhood with a selection of the 175 (!) tomatoes grown on 55 acres in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. I felt like a kid in a candy store. So many choices, and just a little slice of community garden plot to plant.Our first year, CRR and I planted 13 different tomato varietals -– our friends and colleagues were deliriously happy with our excess but we vowed never again to over-plant. Now we’re at a manageable nine. But which nine?

We chose two Brandywines, as sturdy as the Pennsylvania Amish credited with its creation in the late 1800s. One is a traditional Brandywine; the other is Sudduth’s, a varietal traced to a Tennessee tomato lover. Then there’s the Old German (no, not a nickname for CRR), a Mennonite heirloom, yellow with red streaks, that produces fruit that range from one to two pounds. Each.

Tomato plants for sale

Tomato plants for sale

Another heirloom draws rapturous descriptions that would befit a fine Cabernet: rich, complex, almost smoky. That’s the Carbon, a nearly black tomato. For color contrast, we’ve got Orange Blossom, which is a baseball-sized orange globe.  Violet Jasper is red with purple and green streaks.

Juliet, a cherry tomato, will be the first to ripen. I can safely predict we will gobble down the first Juliets right there in the garden bed. It produces bright red fruit on grape-like clusters. Sixty days to tomato bliss, followed by several months of tomato nirvana, thanks to the fruit traced to the Peruvian desert and spread round the world by the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.