Leaving the farmers market, for me, is like being a photon trying to escape from a black hole.
If I arrive early I get mired in a cascading vortex of vegetable appreciation (and cultivation, preservation, preparation, mastication, etc.) and schmoozing—probing the heights of philosophy, the depths of humor, and wherever the week’s news and gossip lead. I keep it under control by arriving late.
Last Friday night wasn’t the first cold night, but the next morning stayed cold enough to ring the bell of autumn. Breaking my rule, I arrived early at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market, for a change.
It has a small-town feel, and is clearly anchored by a strong and vital white-haired contingent. There’s a diversity of farm-fresh produce (three big stands, several mom-and-pops), crafts and such, fresh baked goods, artisan roasted coffee, and last but not least, the thing I was looking for, which I found by following my nose up the wafting stream of roasted green chile vapor, around the corner to the propane-fired tumbling chile roaster behind Steve and Caroline Bull’s farm stand.
After investigating the roasted green chile sample bar—with its separately labeled servers of Big Jims, Anaheims, Poblanos, Rellenos, Espanolas and Romeros—I bought $65 worth.
Then I bought a burrito from the girl next door. It had a teaser amount of roasted green chile in it, but I wanted more. So I drifted back to the sample bar. There, after each bite, I put a new layer of green chile atop my next bite-to-be. A white-hair came by, pushing a basket. “Hurry up with those rellenos,” she yelled at Steve, who told me he wishes he had a bigger roaster.
Next stop was the tail end of the original Missoula Farmers’ Market (at the XXXs). I arrived right on time, just after the noon bell, during the half-hour window when vendors are now allowed to sell food to the public, even after the infamous bell has tolled, as long as they are packed and out by 12:30.
Lucy was selling half-packed produce from her half-loaded trailer. She’s from Texas (The Idaho of New Mexico), so I figured she’d appreciate a bag of green.
“Why are you giving me these?” she asked.
“For fun!” I said.
For fun, she reciprocated with three heads of green leaf, a melon, and a head of romaine.
Autumn was in full bloom on my friend Laura’s cheeks as she dropped a load of excess produce at the Missoula Food Bank collection zone. Food bankers can expect some awesome pickings these days, including spinach, radishes, greens, tomatoes and corn.
As I complimented Laura on her farm’s (Homestead Organics) Hamilton market stand, I heard Josh Slotnick trying to interrupt our conversation.
“Hey Ari! Hey Ari!”
I ignored him.
I heard some suspicious-sounding footsteps, and turned around to see Slotnick preparing to hockey check me. His right hand held a bag of salad mix away from the would-be point of impact, which was in front of his lowered left shoulder. I stepped away from this point.
“Don’t you just love this town,” he said, as he slingshotted past me to trade for apples with Kurt and Pam.
When I turned back around, Laura was gone the other direction with a bag of something, also—I sensed—to trade.
I gave Wrathful Steve homemade tuna jerky (in exchange for tomatoes the other week), and he gave me a sack of frozen trout that someone had just given him. “Jerk this!” he said.
When I gave three bags of green (Big Jims, Espanolas and Romeros) to Tom McCamant from Forbidden Fruits, he gave me two boxes of “seconds” peaches. Now that was fun.
Finally, I arrived at the Clark Fork Market, aka the Meat Market, underneath the Higgins Avenue bridge. Open until one, this is the ultimate late-arrival farmers’ market destination.
Like a productive ecosystem taking hold, this market is built on diversity. Cooked food, raw meat, well-behaved dogs, grown-ups sitting at umbrella tables, a band under Higgins—anything goes at the Meat Market.
Sipping some “late market special price” melon juice, I stopped to admire Paula’s peppers (Paradise Gardens). After buttering her up with a bag of green, we made a deal: She gives me peppers, I pickle them, we split the product.
I didn’t bother offering Dan (the lamb guy) any green, since he doesn’t eat vegetables. But he gave me a rack of lamb ribs, for fun, which I smoked, which was also fun.
I could end here in a lot of different directions. Will it be the maple syrup and whiskey rib marinade? Will I divulge the pickled pepper recipe, how I smoked that trout, or the midnight snack I made that night?
Oops, I’m out of space, so I’ll just say “The End.” If you want more on something you read today, send me a letter—if possible, on a topic other than green chile, since my editor is getting really sick of it.
Ask Ari: More chiles please!
Q: Hi Ari! Thanks for all your attention to Hatch chiles (also known as New Mexico Green chile, usually roasted). I’m a Hatch chile devotee. Not only have I been there, and brought back plenty of chiles to Missoula, I have a connection in the area who sends me bags of chiles when they’re ready. I received my Fed Ex box-o-Hatch a few weeks ago, and several chiles went into the following Hatch chile pesto recipe courtesy of Central Market in Dallas:
Six mild to hot Hatch chiles, or a combination to suit your taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup roasted chopped pecans
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (or more to taste; I use a whole lime)
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Roast the chiles first, and de-vein and de-seed them. Combine the chiles and the cheese, cilantro, garlic, pecans, lime juice and salt in a food processor until everything is finely chopped. Add the olive oil slowly until all the ingredients become a smooth paste. At this point you can use it right away, or, like regular pesto, it’s perfect for freezing. I like to spread it on bread slices that have been buttered and covered with a few slices of Monterey jack and placed under the broiler until toasted, melted and bubbly.
A: Dear Rebecca,
Thanks for the recipe. I especially like the use of pecans—as you may know, pecans are the #2 crop in the lower Rio Grande Valley, after chile.
Okay folks, we really need some non-chile related questions. The editor may be a lame duck, but he’s still my friend. Isn’t anybody curious about planting garlic, or freezing kale, or hard cider?
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.