Throughout the growing season, New Mexico is home to fresh food markets every day of the week. You can follow the progression of summer by watching the diversity of produce unfold like a kaleidoscope on vendors’ tables. And you can travel to markets around the state and marvel at the differences that elevation and latitude make in what can be grown.
In addition to fresh produce, of course, there’s coffee and breakfast burritos to be had, plants to stick in the ground, meat to grill and fresh baked bread, plus soaps, lotions and other creative expressions of the state’s diverse landscapes.
As the Alibi’s restaurant critic, my focus has narrowed to restaurants that are serving local foods. And in service of this local focus, my purview has widened to include growers’ markets.
During the coming months I’ll be visiting as many markets around the state as I can, and I’ll bring you their stories. If you know of any that I shouldn’t miss, please do tell. If I write a review based on your recommendation, and if our Locovore designer tote bags ever get printed, then one of them will have your name on it.
Growers’ markets, like people, have distinct personalities. Some are rowdy, some are strict, some are cheap, some are early risers and some wait until the afternoon to get going. To demonstrate this point, I’m going to dust off my long-dormant “compare and contrast” skills and tell you about two options just north of town.
Heading up Rio Grande toward Los Ranchos, the Bosque was positively blissful in the early morning. I got to market a little after 7 a.m., and apparently I was late. Vendors have told me the buying pressure sometimes begins at 6:30 a.m. or earlier—basically as soon as they get there and start unloading their trucks.
The market is set up in a parking lot between a grassy field and a fire station. A guy on a guitar sang a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong through a P.A. as rays of sunshine began finding their way through the trees.
Because there were still some holes in my garden, and because I’d committed the rookie maneuver of forgetting to bring my cooler, on this morning I limited my purchases to plant starts. And maybe a baked good. And a carton of mismatched eggs from Zia Mañana Harvest. And some remarkably floral-tasting honey produced in the neighborhood by Isidro y Maria.
My starts included basil; watermelon; Armenian and Israeli cucumbers; black, white and orange tomatoes; and a clump of parsley in a 2-inch pot. I later teased apart the roots of that parsley plant under running water into 24 separate plants, which are now in the garden. I also bought two breakfast tortes at the Hand to Mouth table, including one of kefir, date and piñon, and another of curried kale. The crusts of these divine pastries crumbled into buttery dust as I bit down.
The next morning I got to the Corrales Growers’ Market at 7:30 a.m., and the place was nearly empty. Site manager Al Gonzales was setting up the market’s center island, which consists of a gift shop, breakfast burrito stand, shaded dining area and market administrative center. He told me the market opens at 9 a.m.
“Wow, that’s late,” I said.
“For a lot of farmers,” he said, “Sunday is the one day they kind of take off.”
I did some calculations. If properly prepared the night before, a farmer could sleep in maybe until 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“Plus,” he said, “a lot of them harvest before market. How many markets can you get food that was picked hours earlier?”
By 8:59 a.m., many booths had lines of people with money in hand, awaiting the opening bell. Farmers that sell before the bell are punished, though in extenuating circumstances they might pull the ole, Well, if you were to put $3 in that yogurt container and walk off with that squash plant while I’ve got my back turned, you might get away with it.
I’d brought my cooler this time, which I kept cold with frozen goods: a fantastic rib steak from Canyon Creek ranch and a few salmon belly tamales from the Fish Hugger guy who goes to Alaska to catch the fish he sells here alongside his locally raised beef. He also sells special California olive oil at the laissez-faire Los Ranchos market—where more of the clientele may have white hair, but anything goes.
I also got a chocolate mint plant, some baby carrots and some delicious baby artichokes from Carrasco Family Farm. Steamed, you could practically eat those artichokes whole—I didn’t notice any “chokers” in the heart. I couldn’t walk by Hand to Mouth without buying beet pasta, fresh pesto, an amazing pâté that I’ve been broiling on pieces of bread and an apricot torte. Half of a fresh apricot, blanched and glistening, lay surrounded by more of that explosive crust, and as I ate it I said “Wow” so many times I ran out of wows.
I bought kale from a man with a Caribbean accent. His kids had made a beautiful sign for their plot, Emeanule's Farm, with drawings of all the produce they grow.
He and I spoke about some of the other area markets, including Los Ranchos.
“That one starts at 6:30,” he said. “We don’t ... we don’t go to that one.”