Vancouver lies in the bountiful cradle of the Fraser Valley, and the farms and orchards of the Okanagen are not too far away. Being a port city, exotic produce and goods are readily available to consumers, and many items are available year round. Seasonal local products and produce are wonderful, however, and Farmer’s Market season is in full swing in most Vancouver communities come summertime.
I usually buy produce from local independent shops, and occasionally I’ll venture out to Granville Island Market for some “trendy” grocery shopping and a grand day out, but I what I love best is milling about with the locals at a seasonal Farmer’s Market. Seeing an array of folding tables laden with an incredible selection of fresh fruit and veg or homemade goodies or handmade crafts make me feel at home no matter what city it’s in.
I love the smell of sweet fruit in the warm sun, and the taste of free samples. An infinite palette of ripe natural colours greets me, and I don’t mind the noise and bustle of a crowd of interesting strangers. I daydream my way through homemade bread, cakes, pies, perogis, pastas, samosas, spreads, dips, sauces, and whatever else the cornucopia of tasty treats may offer. I usually come back with a bag (or two) of fresh, fragrant, and delicious things.
Today, I purchased a dozen brown speckled eggs laid by happy free-range chickens living in the Fraser Valley, and some ground beef and sirloin steaks taken from grass-fed Angus cattle raised on a Cariboo-Chilcotin ranch. I also picked up some red and yellow peppers, fresh strawberries, and a bag of various greens (including pea shoots and dandelion greens). Baked goods were plentiful, and a small rhubarb crisp came home with us, but we ate an apple-compote crepe and a ham & cheese scone on the spot.
Speaking of spot, there were quite a lot of dogs in the crowd or waiting patiently along the perimeter. I enjoy a dog-friendly neighbourhood, especially when people respectfully leash their animals and the pups have good manners. It’s always a treat for me to meet someone else’s dog, since I cannot have one of my own right now.
My Favourite Finds:
Maple Syrup Taffy
Maple Syrup Taffy immediately makes me think of Laura Ingalls-Wilder making snow candy in Little House in the Big Woods. In the winter, her mother would pour swirls of hot maple syrup into a pile of fresh snow and make sweet little candies. Oh how I wanted to do that, begging Mommie Dearest to let me every time there was a good snowfall, but to no avail. Maple Syrup Taffy works on a similar principle. Among French Canadians, it’s called tire sur la neige meaning “to draw in the snow.”
After a brief hand-wash with sanitizing gel, I selected a wooden stick and the Syrup Guy poured a line of hot syrup on top of a barrel full of crushed ice “snow.” I counted to three and pressed the stick into the syrup at the end of the line, then slowly began to collect the sweet sticky candy, rolling it up on my stick. I let my Maple Taffy lolly sit for a moment to firm up, but I could hardly wait to taste it.
It was sticky like caramel, but light and not too sugary. The mapley flavour was clean and bright, like a moment of unspoiled childhood happiness. I also bought a maple sugar cone for Ginger Man. They are like little tiny ice cream cones, filled with a bit of taffy in the bottom and a more crystalized maple sugar candy on top. Apparently, it’s quite a popular treat among the Quebequois. The sugar buzz kept us going all morning. It was a delightful experience.
Italian Black Truffle Sea Salt
At the Maison Coté booth, there were bags upon bags of spice mixes, peppercorns, and seasoned salts, as well as a shelf of oils, vinegars, and little balsamic spritzers. I picked up some Citrus sea salt (with lemon, orange, and grapefruit peel), a bag of Kitsilano peppercorn blend, and a White Truffle Balsamic spritzer to mist on my greens (I’m told it’s also nice on chicken and fish). I wish I had brought an extra $20 bucks at the time, because I would have immediately thrown it down to have a bag of the Italian black truffle salt. The vendor was kind enough to give me a whiff, and it really knocked my socks off. That earthy, pungent, luscious truffley aroma was truly amazing. Happily, his shop is in the city, so I’m looking forward to visiting and bringing home some of that orgasmic salt blend soon.
Farmers Market Shopping Tips
In the Vancouver area, most farmers markets open between April and July and continue through October or September. The majority run Saturdays or Sundays, but there are several venues with markets on a Wednesday or Thursday.
- Arrive early to be sure you get what you want, or visit near closing time to get last-minute deals from some vendors
- Bring CASH to make things simple, or purchase some “Market Money” using your bank card. Use it like cash at any vendor.
- Some vendors rotate between different venues during the season, but many of them take orders from their websites.
- BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags! Most markets sell tote bags and packs of veggie bags if you need them.
- Bike, bus, or walk if you can. Parking in some neighbourhoods can be tricky to find, and drive cautiously around pedestrians. Besides, it’s no bad thing to be a little “green” and leave the gasmobile at home.
- Keep an eye out for “delivery services” at the market entrance. You can load up with goodies and someone will bike or drive it to your home.
- Don’t forget, Farmer’s Markets aren’t just for veggies! You can also get fresh eggs, frozen meats and fish, pickles, preserves, oils, spices, honey, handmade soaps, fresh flowers, potted plants, hats, jewelry, pottery, just about anything!