Most of the time, my trips are highly choreographed, driven by a researched hit-list of restaurants, coffeehouses, bars and breweries. However, an August 7 trip to Santa Barbara and its surrounding environs was more free form, a great opportunity to let go. The second stop of the day for me and Allison was at the Saturday Santa Barbara Farmers Market, which occupies the corner of Santa Barbara & Cota Streets from 8:30 AM – 1 PM and touts some of the best farmers in California. After seeing the aisles of dazzling produce, the idea of grabbing another restaurant meal no longer made sense. Instead, we were inspired to craft lunch and dinner from market finds, which ended up being highly rewarding.
We started at a booth that belongs to Burkdoll Farm, family-owned in Visalia since 1858. If it matters to you, the farm is “dedicated to the most sustainable, ecologically sound farming practices for now and the next generation.” If you aren’t eco-conscious, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the rainbow’s worth of Burkdoll stonefruit.
We snatched a trio of different fruits, including a “Flavor Grenade” Pluot with green skin and sweet, juicy flesh, a “Flavor Gold” Pluot with taut yellow skin and tangy interior; and a “Summer Flame” peach that was nowhere near ripe, leading to high acidity and too-firm flesh.
Rancho Santa Cecilia, located in Carpinteria, delivered the day’s most unusual find: flor de agave. The brilliantly colored agave flowers (only $2 per bunch) apparently bloom every 20 years, creating an opportunity that was too rare to pass up. The free samples of cooked flor de agave clinched it. If you end up buying flor de agave, remove the anthers, which add bitterness, and either boil or steam the flowers, which have a texture that falls between asparagus and okra.
We didn’t buy anything from Hilltop & Canyon farm in Carpinteria, but I marveled at their purple “dragon tongue” beans and reddish-yellow “Vermont cranberry beans.”
We bought a bear full of sage blossom honey from San Marcos Farms from Santa Barbara. They also sell molasses-rich avocado blossom honey, bee pollen, and beeswax candles.
Representatives from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese drove about 350 miles, each way, to sell their “farmstead artisan cheese” from Petaluma. Tangy, herb-flecked goat sage cheddar costs ($24/lb), but our wedge cost only $5.28 and turned out to be more than enough when wrapped with pieces of torn baguette. They also sold goat peppercorn Jack, goat garlic cheddar, goat white cheddar and more cheeses.
Harry’s Berries Strawberry Drink ($3 per pint) is made using just Gaviota strawberries, sugar and water. Gaviota strawberries are naturally sweet, with mild acidity, so the sugar may not have been necessary, but whatever, the slushy drink sure was satisfying in a warm summer day. Whatever fresh berries Harry’s stall doesn’t sell goes straight into juice and jam.
Creekside Apple Ranch, home of Solvang Pie Company also sells several breads at the market, including the baguette we bought.
We ate the stonefruit, goat cheese and baguette on the beach near Santa Barbara City College, overlooking the Pacific (and oil derricks). Seagulls seemed interested in our goat sage cheddar, but at $24/lb, we were willing to put up a fight to protect it.
When we finally arrived home after a full day on the road, Allison and I crafted a full dinner using our market ingredients. It turned out to be labor intensive to pull the fava beans from their pods, gut the squash blossoms and carefully dissect the flor de agave, but it was worth the effort.
We stuffed the blossoms with ricotta, dipped them in beer batter and fried them in vegetable oil. We used Greene King Hen’s Tooth Ale for the batter, since that was the best option already in the fridge. The crispy blossoms filled with molten ricotta paired well with the sauteed cherry tomatoes.
We steamed and sauteed the flor de agave with olive oil, onions and garlic. Awesome. Israeli couscous was a little wet by serving time, but the tiny pearls paired well with fresh-plucked fava beans, caramelized red onion and sliced squash. This meal would have been unimaginable earlier in the day, but sometimes it’s worth submitting to the whims of the road.