Whenever I have a rare burst of Saturday morning energy (and a craving for homemade soup or a special salad or stir-fry), I head over to Sunset Valley Farmers Market, just outside of Austin in Sunset Valley. Summer happens to be an especially favorite time for me to go, despite temps hovering close to 90 degrees by 11-ish, when I usually arrive there. Despite not getting there at the opening hour of 9 a.m., I can still find excellent selection. You see, I love making gazpacho, and there's no place or time of year better to find homegrown, organic tomatoes—the key ingredient—than the farmers' markets. I can also find fresh homegrown cucumber, onion, garlic and jalapenosâ€”the supporting ingredients there. Plus, once you've cooked with garden-fresh garlic, store-bought never quite measures up.
Texas Highways ran a short piece on Austin's Farmers Markets by Kitty Crider in the May Issue. Kitty, the longtime food editor of the Austin Amercian-Statesman who recently retired, wrote an excellent piece and gives some very helpful tips on how to enjoy your shopping trip. One of my favorites is to try to bring the right amount of cash you think you'll need, though some markets have ATMs on-site. I like to try to make a game of it to see how much $10. will yield in fresh produce (Sunset Valley's stalls also offer natural/grass-fed meats, eggs, cheeses, bakery items, and many other foods and items you wouldn't expect to find in an outdoor marketâ€” you could almost do all your shopping here!) If I'm buying ingredients for one or two meals (and bring a list!) I usually stay within budget. Sometimes I miss my $10 mark when I add scones or gourmet sesame crackers, but since the money goes directly back to the growers and vendors it makes me feel good knowing I'm supporting local, sustainable-food suppliers.
The hustle-and-bustle of the crowds jostling for a place in line, or a space to peruse the goods, combined with the wonderful smells of fresh produce mixed with baked goods, remind me somewhat of the outdoor markets I visited while vacationing in Paris, only it's much sunnier and hotter here. Carefully combing the baskets of squash and eggplant, the tables full of huge, vibrant tomatoes, armed with my trusty canvas bag slung over my shoulder, I imagine myself transported to one of those marchÃ©s, shopping for the daily meal instead of one or two large dishes that I hope will sustain me in the next day or two and in the freezer for later.