Peak of the Harvest San Diego Market Tour

When summer begins to wane and the autumn leaves begin their transition, the tables at the farmers markets explode with color. Whether it is San Diego or Detroit, the September harvest is a magnificent time to be in our local farmers markets which have become our community centers, weekend playgrounds and the instigators of culinary foreplay for foodies across the country.

While visiting San Diego recently, I went to five farmers markets and a community farm.  One of my favorites, the Little Italy Mercato, is the jewel of the San Diego urban markets.  Overlooking the breathtaking harbor, the five blocks of booths offer local crafts, delicious prepared foods, stunning colorful fruits & vegetables and some of the best street music in the area.  One of my favorite vendors, Sage Mountain Farm, told me the Armenian cucumbers were a big hit the day I was there while the Rose apples and prickly pear fruit were selling fast at Rancho Lindo Mexico’s booth.  As always, a parade of canine friends, sniffing for samples, create a friendly atmosphere unlike any of the other markets.

I was pleased to see that the North Park Farmers Market is finally starting to blossom, thanks in part to the addition of food trucks and certified organic farms such as Suzie’s Farm and JR Organics.  Moncai Foods, a wholesale vegan dessert company, is now there selling deliciously crafted vegan entrees and desserts.

I headed toward the Mexican border to visit the Wild Willow Community Farm near Imperial Beach.  Over the last three years this farm has grown into an amazing educational center and gathering place for the local community. Director Mel Lions told me the farm is thriving and finally able to distribute produce to the local markets.  They have a potluck and open house every third Saturday of the month–providing volunteers and the greater community an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and appreciate the gifts of the soil. It is a wonderful event which I highly recommend.

Little Italy Mercato’s Market Maestra, Catt White, gave me a tour of the new San Diego Public Market on National Avenue.  It is a two acre site where an old machine factory once stood.  Soon it will serve as an indoor/outdoor year-round marketplace.  The plan includes incubator kitchens, permanent food stalls and a home base for food trucks.  It is very ambitious, but I have no doubt Catt can achieve her goal after seeing firsthand what she has done with markets around San Diego. Wednesday and Sunday markets have already begun in this location, which I look forward to visiting the next time I’m in San Diego.

Even though it is a smaller boutique market, Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is also one of my favorites.  Each week, market master Raquel Pena transforms a shopping center parking lot into a magical place filled with beautiful music, delicious food, fruits, vegetables and artisans. I find these intimate and cozy markets a refreshing change from the crush of the crowds at some of the more popular ones. My good friend Akram Attie is front and center here in his Thyme of Essence booth.  He not only sells the freshest harvest of California olive oil and custom Zaatar spice blends, but sumptuous, out-of-this-world Manoushe & Falafel sandwiches toasted on a Mongolian-style grill.

Nicolina Alves of Terra Bella Ranch took over the vibrant La Jolla Open Aire Market last year. The word is out and it has become a destination place for anyone in or near La Jolla on any given Sunday.  There are a large variety of food stalls, a plethora of vegetable & fruit farmers and a dizzying array of crafts and artists.

The market is on the verge of adding thirty percent more space and it is only going to get better.  Of course, Terra Bella Ranch is an anchor vendor and has always been one of my favorite organic farms.  They specialize in walnuts, almonds, avocados and dried fruits.

I enjoyed visiting with Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms and tasting his giant football-shaped Uzbeki melons–sweet and succulent! Some of the best melons I’ve ever had.

The Grande Dame of San Diego markets is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, where most chefs and foodies shop.  I could not resist buying the giant figs, perfectly ripe passion fruit and the voluptuous Reed avocados from Ryan at Creekside Tropicals.

I sampled fresh harvested, dried on the palm Morocco Gold Medjool dates.  They taste like a melt-in-the-mouth caramel, addictive and delicious. I ordered a variety of heirloom beans to be shipped by Michelle Larson Sadler’s Conscious Cookery–Colorado River, Anasazi, Mortgage Lifter and Borlotti beans.

Market days are not just days to stock up on fresh and exciting ingredients.  They are a rejuvenating experience, an opportunity to reconnect with friends and awaken culinary creativity.  I used the passion fruits from Creekside Tropicals to create this recipe.

Passion-Almond Creme Brulee

Serves 4

Passion fruit

4 passion fruits

1/4 cup evaporated cane juice

Slice the passion fruits in half and scoop the fruit into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula push the fruit against the strainer, working the juice from the seeds. Place the juice into a small sauce pan on medium-low heat.  Stir in the sugar. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it becomes a syrup-like consistency. Reserve.

Almond Creme

1 cup plain almond or soy milk

1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour or 1-1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder

Whisk all ingredients together in a double boiler on medium heat. Cook for 40 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thick.

Transfer evenly into 4 shallow ramekins (small souffle dishes).

Assembly

4 tablespoons evaporated cane juice

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice on top of each ramekin. Using a cooking torch, carefully caramelize the sugar until golden brown. Dress each ramekin with a swirl of passion fruit syrup. Serve immediately.

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