Sunday, August 23, 2009

Portland, I Think I Love You Part 1 – The Market.

I love how life has a way of turning around. One minute you think it’s going to implode and the next you are positively exploding with delight and joy. I have had such an experience over the past 48 hrs. The hell part happened on the way down to Portland (see my last post) and the heaven part happened at the Portland State University Farmers Market. The market happens on Saturdays and is held in a leafy square between university buildings in downtown Portland. We came to the market last year when we were here and I have nothing but happy memories of deliciousness from that visit and I am happy to say that this experience was even better than last year.

The market is huge – I’m not sure how many stalls but we were there for two hours and didn’t really get to all of them. This may have had something to do with the fact that many stalls offer samples and friendly staff and it’s easy to start chatting about how exactly the cherries are covered with milk chocolate, or how the carrot blossom honey is collected, or the venison pate made. You get the picture.

As we started out, my first feelings were of amazement at the abundance and sheer variety of produce. Stalls were literally overflowing: every variety and colour of peppers, huge bunches of basil, enormous sunflowers, 10 different types of tomatoes, sweet raspberries, blueberries, huge local blackberries, elderberries (!), juicy plums, round red peaches and the melons! A word about the melons as they really do deserve their own mention. I have never encountered as many varieties of melons as I did at this one particular stall: sweet honey melon, musk melon, juicy yellow-fleshed watermelon that was to DIE for (just ask Zoe – she had about a pound just in samples with the evidence all over her mouth and face). We did hang around the melon stall perhaps a titch too long but they were so generous! It would have been just plain rude to refuse their samples. They clearly went to a great deal of trouble cutting up slices and I, for one, was not going to be the rude woman who said no at the market. Yeah, whatever, it was delicious and I would probably still be there if Jacob hadn’t drawn my attention to the flower stall. Huge bunches of the dahlias, roses, sunflowers, to name a few filled buckets of water and everyone was taking pictures, And so cheap! A large bunch that would fill my arms was only $5! And thanks for not commenting that anything that would fill my arms mustn’t be very big.

After I got over the flowers, it was on to the bakery, charcuterie and dairy stalls. We stopped at one bakery stall to sample something called a Big Dawg which is a delectable combination of gooey cinnamon yumminess, whole wheat bread, and a mix of sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and who knows what else. Roll it all up together and bake it and it’s ALL GOOD.

Next was the Chop charcuterie/pate stall where I sampled venison pate (delicious) and a farmhouse country style pate that was so good I could hardly speak. There were two men next to me sampling a soprasetta (which is a kind of dry-cured salami) that the guy was out of. They wanted it so badly they were discussing (out of range of the stall owner) if it would be appropriate to ask him where he lived and if they could go there and buy some from him after the market. “Would that be too much like stalking him?” asked one of the men. “No”. was the emphatic reply of his friend. This stuff was that good.

Of course it was only right that I then moved on to one of the many creamery stalls. I love how they call them creameries. It just sounds so good! And surprise, it is good. I sampled, and then bought, a log of sheep's milk cheese that came wrapped in white paper twisted at the ends with a stalk of rye stuck in the end. It looked like the most delicious Christmas cracker ever. At another creamery stall we sampled little dabs of unsalted butter spread on tiny crackers and it was here that I learned that all butter is not created equal. This butter was amazing! It was almost sweet and had none of that cloying after taste that I dislike so much about butter. Another stall was selling little squares of the most amazing sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese maker was right there on site and he sliced off a piece for me. It melted in my mouth and I was forced to purchase some (Oh OK if I must!) and then forced to purchase a loaf of ciabatta to accompany it – any other course of action would have been cruel to both the bread and the cheese. They MUST be together!

It was by now lunch time and so we stopped browsing long enough to enjoy home made biscuits with your choice of topping (I chose the home-made marionberry jam because really, who wouldn’t?) while Kent enjoyed a delicious shitake mushroom gravy with his. Say no more except that it exceeded all expectations.

After lunch Kent sampled a few of the wine stalls (BC Government take note – ordinary people like you and me were sampling glasses of wine at a public market and…NOTHING BAD HAPPENED). The kids and I somehow made our way to a honey stall and sampled a few (8!) types of honey. I highly recommend the carrot-blossom honey. Who knew?

There were many other stalls that I am just not doing justice to here but I will briefly mention the lovely ladies from The Cherry Country stall who were plying their chocolate covered cherries to us unsuspecting customers. These are dried cherries covered in unbelievably delicious milk chocolate (you can also get them covered in dark chocolate but those of you who know me will know that I think dark chocolate is a bit of a crime so I’ll just leave it at that). I’m actually eating one right now as I write this and I believe the word I am looking for is ‘orgasmic’. (Yes, I’ll save you one;) Really there should be a warning at stalls like this as the noises you make when sampling are somewhat uncontrollable. It’s a bit awkward really.  Anyway… I digress. Did I mention the hazelnuts? Or the old man from the root vegetable farm. He had a table full of all sorts of root vegetables and as I stood at his table, I overheard him giving out direction to his farm to a couple of tourists who ‘really wanted to see a farm’. ‘No problem’ he told them. “Just follow them directions I give ya (and I quote) and come on up the road to the gate. Come on through the gate and then just start hollerin’ for me. I’ll be in with the vegetables”. How cute! “In with the vegetables”! Just as if they  (the vegetables that is) would be in learning their ‘figurin’ or something and the farmer would be in to help them if they got stuck.

We rolled out of the market a couple of hours later a very happy group. I had bags of home-grown, unprocessed deliciousness in my arms and two very happy and well-fed kids. Jacob declared it ‘the best place ever’ and even Zoe was content. Although she did ask if we could take one more look for the homemade ice-cream sandwich stand that we had encountered last year but could not locate this year, as if we would have had any room anyway.

The rest of the day passed in a sort of happy dream-like state. Stay tuned for more on exactly how much I LOVE Portland.  For now, I’m off for more chocolate covered cherries.

Thanks for reading:)





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1 comment:

  1. I once knew a girl named Marion Berry, but she wasn't from Portland.
    But I digress.
    It's a little-known fact that the marionberry is currently in contention for the title of state fruit. Don't think I'd want to be known as the state fruit. Word has it that a serious challenge has come from the raspberry.
    Not much of a choice really, is it?