I relive a lifetime of memories during my Saturday morning visits to the Napa Farmers’ Market. I check my tires, attach my bags, hop on my bike, and pedal down the River Trail to the sights and sounds, the people, the colors, aromas, and flavors—and to my memories of vagabond visits to markets across the world.
Perched on a vista overlooking Puget Sound, Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market is a sensory word here, with shouting merchants hawking produce and tossing whole salmon. I don’t know for sure that this was the first market I’d ever been to, but it was the first one that announced its presence like a rock concert. Mesmerizing is hardly the word for it.
I remember emerging from the Metro, only a few blocks from the capitol in Washington, D.C., to wander the stalls of the East Market, a veritable oasis of colorful produce in the midst of our concrete capital city. The vendors tallied the bill on the back of a brown produce bag, a touch that delighted me but caused my more cautious roommate to wonder if we were being charged correctly.
The Marché Centrale in the Central African city of Bangui is a bewildering array of sensations, most memorably the pungent smell of fresh, unrefrigerated meat. If you want beef, you arrive first thing in the morning and order your cuts to be custom butchered, after first negotiating over coffee with the loud, bejeweled and vivacious Senegalese wife of the butcher. There was stall after stall of the freshest, most colorful produce I had ever seen—greens, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, beans—sold by the market women who laughed and gossiped and bargained with buyers, while children swarmed and played.
Later, I found my way to the magical, labyrinthine Saturday market in Oaxaca, Mexico. Every week, the farmers and artisans of the neighboring valleys gather at a market that goes on for acres. I remember the tapestry of hand-dyed and handwoven rugs, and the artistry of the local pottery, each village with its signature glaze. I can still see the mounds of painstakingly-made pastes that serve as the flavorful base for the seven traditional moles of Oaxaca.
Markets are much more than shopping venues. They are centers of culture, foundations of cuisine, and, for me, the beating heart of what wine people like to call “a sense of place.” Within a morning’s truck ride from Napa are many of the finest farms and farmers in the world. Our wine-country community has become a destination for contemporary American cuisine, in part because every Tuesday and Saturday morning these farmers bring their produce and their passion to our doorstep.
I revisit these memories during my ride to the market, and I anticipate what awaits. I love trying to predict what has come into season, to imagine what I can make for dinner, to guess at which chef, winemaker, old friend or new acquaintance I will run into. And I love knowing that I’m about to spend a morning at the finest farmers’ market I know.
Strawberry and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
You’ll find fragrant, fully ripe strawberries at the Napa Farmers’ Market over the next few weeks. This recipe is from Derick Kuntz, chef of B Cellars.
3 strips of bacon, in 1-inch pieces
1 cup fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons half-and-half
12 strawberries, in small dice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 sourdough baguette
In a skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until completely crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and cool. Finely chop the bacon, then fold it into the goat cheese with the half and half.
In a mixing bowl, combine the strawberries, 1 tablespoon olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
Cut 20 slices, about 1/3-inch thick, from the baguette, slicing on the bias. Drizzle the slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the slices until they char lightly but retain a soft center. Spread one side with bacon goat cheese and top with strawberries. Serve immediately.
Makes 20 bruschette.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., April 15 through Nov. 21, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The third Tuesday of every month is Seniors’ Day at the market, with some vendors offering discounts to shoppers 65 and older. Ask about participating vendors at the information booth. For more market information and a schedule of upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org.
The Farmers’ Market participates in the Market Match Program, doubling CalFresh users’ buying power on EBT-approved items. Benefits can be accessed at the market information booth. Several farm vendors are also certified to accept WIC and SNAP checks (available through WIC). For a list of WIC certified vendors, visit the market’s information booth.