Heirlooms Abound: The San Jose Downtown Campbell Farmer’s Market
I woke up bright and early this past Sunday morning, ready to go and explore my first California farmer’s market. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I have had very mixed opinions and experiences with various markets. Growing up in Minnesota, there was usually a great selection of seasonal produce available during the summertime at a number of different venues. Vendors would also gather to sell homemade or natural products such as pastas, soaps, honey and clothing. These experiences of my youth contrasted greatly with my encounters in the markets of New York City. In Manhattan, markets were rare and oftentimes difficult to reach. I usually settled for the union square market, which was large but extremely expensive. I was anxious to finally see a west coast market after years of learning about the bountiful fresh fruits and vegetables grown practically just down the street. The area that I’m living in, Downtown Campbell of San Jose, is much smaller than what I am used to, so I was a little skeptical about what their weekly Sunday market would be like. In the end I was happily surprised that the market surpassed my expectations!
I hopped on the bike that I bought for transport while I’m here in Northern California and began my journey. The Main Street of downtown Campbell is blocked off on Sundays for the market so I parked my bike and grabbed my sagging backpack, empty thus far but awaiting treasures.
I have never seen so many heirloom varieties before! The first stand that I encountered had at least five different types of grapes. The colors were the most amazing part. There was orange cauliflower and purple green beans, bright blue grapes and rainbow tomatoes.
Next, I stumbled upon Kashiwase Farms, a vendor who only sold peaches and plums. Here I met a very friendly man named Richard, who insisted that I try a sample of every single one of his peaches! Normally I am not such a fan of peaches, usually they end up being mushy or stringy, but these were fantastic. I had no idea there could be so many subtle variances in flavor. Some fruits were tender and the sweet with sticky juices that ran down my hands when I took a bite. Some of the fruits were firm and tart, or light and crisp in flavor. The colors varied from deep reddish-purple to bright orange, pale yellow or off-white with purple veins spreading throughout. After eating probably four entire fruits, I settled on some sweet and firm “o’Henry” peaches known for grilling, as well as some King plums.
Sampling seems to be a big thing at this market, which I really appreciate. I was able to test and learn the flavors of different fruits and vegetables before I bought them. Every once in a while I would find something I wasn’t very familiar with, which of course I had to buy. I found a head of garlic that was half the size of my own head, but which cost a startling four dollars to purchase. I did so anyways because I knew some shaved garlic would go perfectly with the hybrid broccoli that I got, similar to broccoli rabe. I also found miniature watermelons that I just could not resist. The vendor showed me how to pick out the good ones by knocking on them with your fist and listening for a hollow sound. I encountered bushels of fresh herbs and couldn’t decide which to purchase, so I bought them all and plan on using any leftovers to throw together for a fresh salsa verde on meat.
It wasn’t long before my backpack and arms were full to overflowing and I had to peel myself away from the crowds. The only issue was that I had my eyes trained on the chicken man all day long! What to do, I had no space left but I was dying to treat myself with a little three pound, free-range chicken and some farm fresh eggs. In the end I decided to go for it and balance precariously on my bike with the half dozen eggs and bag of chicken, praying that nothing broke.
All in all, the adventure was a tremendous success. I came away with more than I had realized- elephant garlic, heirloom tomatoes, apples, watermelon, fresh strawberries, Brussels sprouts, green beans that felt like velvet to touch, beets, broccoli, artichokes, three types of kale including one bushel that had orange, red, and purple veins, chicken, eggs, scallions, and an assortment of fresh herbs including sage, thyme, Rosemary and parsley. I cannot wait to see what recipes I dream up for these ingredients in the next week! That is, until the following Sunday, when I plan on tackling the flower selection as well.