If you ask almost anyone who has visited – and many who have not – to name a farmers market or greenmarket in Seattle, the first words out of their mouths will likely be Pike Place Market. ‘The market” is 99 years old this year, and is a Seattle institution. Pike Place was the first place that I visited on my first trip to Seattle, and it is, in my mind, the heart of this city. My office is one short block away, and several times each week I walk down into the market to pick up lunch, or to buy flowers, or just to take a short break from a stressful day at work.
While Pike Place Market is the oldest and best-known farmers’ market in Seattle, it is far from being the only one. Puget Sound Fresh lists 10 farmers’ markets in Seattle. Compared to Pike Place, the other markets, located in neighborhoods all over the city, are youngsters. The University District market, founded in 1993, is the oldest; the Wallingford market is new this year. My favorite farmers’ market is a middle child: the Ballard Farmers’ Market began in 2000, as a spin-off of food vendors from the flea-market-style Fremont Sunday Market.
The Ballard Farmers’ Market is, save for Pike Place, the only year-round farmers market in Seattle. While some Pike Place vendors sell fruits and vegetables from outside of Washington state, at the Ballard market it’s all Washington, all the time. Yes, that means that one’s produce options become limited in the winter, but it’s an interesting challenge to try eating seasonally and locally.
Almost every Sundaymorning, I grab my big canvas bag (and my camera!) and drive the few miles to Ballard. Sometimes the Ballard Bridge is up, and I have to wait for a tall sailboat or fishing vessel to pass.
The market is on Ballard Avenue, in the 100-year-old commercial district of the long-ago-annexed city of Ballard. The Old Ballard business district is a Historic Landmark District; its handsome – if sometimes crumbling – brick buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Old Ballard’s tree-lined streets are now home to restaurants, clubs, boutiques, a few small manufacturing shops (including our kitchen cabinet-maker), and a statistically unlikely number of architects’ offices. While the clubs and offices are closed on Sundays, many of the restaurants and shops have taken advantage of the increased pedestrian traffic at the market to boost their business. During the summer, the market’s tents occupy the street on one block of Ballard Avenue; in winter, the market shrinks to fit into a couple of vacant lots on that block.
When I first began frequenting the Ballard Farmers’ Market five years ago, I saw primarily produce and flowers for sale. Stunningly beautiful, delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs, but not much else to eat. As Paul and I are omnivores, a trip to the market provided only a small fraction of our food for a week. Over the years, the market has grown larger, and its offerings more diverse. As well as produce, the market provides baked goods, seafood, meat, eggs and dairy products. I can now do the majority of my food-shopping at the farmers’ market.
My first stop most summer mornings, especially if I’m arriving late, is Wilson Fish. Gene sells beautiful, extremely fresh salmon and halibut, troll-caught off La Push, Washington. Wilson Fish also smoke their own salmon, flavoring it with either maple and garlic or brown sugar and wine. Taylor Shellfish sells lovely briny oysters, clams and sweet, plump mussels.
I usually pick up a loaf of bread from the all-organic Tall Grass Bakery. The bakery is just a few blocks from the market, but they set up shop in a market stall each Sunday. I find it difficult to choose between their hominy bread, golden with cornmeal, and their oat and honey loaf. Their cherry pumpernickel is magnificent, but is a huge loaf; so far, I’ve contented myself with free samples. Several other bakers have stalls at the market; some specialize in wheat-free breads, others in strudels, fruit pies and other pastries.
How many artisan cheesemakers does Washington have? I don’t know, but four of them are in Ballard on most Sundays. Estrella Family Creamery makes the to-die-for Wynoochee River Blue cheese; Sea Breeze Farm sells both cheeses and raw milk products… if you get to their stall before they sell out. Mt Townsend Creamery is the new kid on the block, having been in business for only a few months. Their camembert-style Cirrus has already become a favorite of mine. Samish Bay Cheese produces a variety of lovely herbed and spiced goudas (as well as extremely tender pork from pigs raised in part on whey from their cheesemaking).
And, of course, there are the stars of the show: fruits and vegetables. And (mostly non-edible) flowers… can’t forget the flowers.
Get lots of people to a market full of beautiful food, and someone’s bound to get hungry. For those who aren’t sustained by a few morsels of fruit and cheese, something’s cooking at several market stalls: grilled veggie quesadillas, crepes filled with egg and ham or fruit and whipped cream, lamb burgers. My favorite market noshes come from Jennifer at Bruschettina, who slathers grilled slices of Tall Grass Bakery’s hominy bread with toppings made from that day’s market offerings. (I’ve written about Bruschettina before, here.)
As at any good street market, food is not the only draw. The clogger/guitarist/singer and her banjo-playing partner always draw crowds; small children (including our nephews) find her dancing particularly mesmerizing. The balloon man constructs elaborate hats for those who are willing to wear them, and grows balloon flowers for the timid.
While I could happily write about and photograph my local farmers’ market(s) any (and perhaps every) day of the week, this post is for the food blogging event Food Destinations 2: My Local Greenmarket, hosted by maki of I was just really very hungry.
UPDATE: The round-up for Food Destinations #2 is done! You can find the map to lots of other wonderful greenmarkets here.
Ballard Farmers’ Market
5300 block of Ballard Avenue NW
April – November: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
December – March: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.