* Walk through the market to get a sense of what’s available.
* Start small and engage your senses — look, smell, taste.
* Buy what you can’t resist.
* Recognize that you’re doing this because it’s fun.
* Editor’s note: This three-part series profiles locals who are dedicated Davis Farmers Market shoppers and why they spend their food dollars there.
By Shelly G. Keller
For 35 years, the Davis Farmers Market has inspired both local chefs and home cooks. You can find farmers market ingredients on the menus of Davis restaurants such as Tucos, Seasons and Monticello Seasonal Cuisine.
As one of the first four certified farmers markets in California, the Davis market stands at the forefront of the national trend of cooking from local, seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients. And avid market shoppers such as Fran Dolan and Scott Shershow will tell you, the Davis Farmers Market has changed what and how market customers cook.
Dolan and Shershow are English professors at UC Davis. From their first visit to the market in 2003 — when they were being recruited by UC Davis — they have been avid shoppers and self-described market boosters.
“We’ve shopped this market most Saturdays since we moved here in 2003,” Dolan says. “Davis Farmers Market was part of what it meant to come to Davis.”
The market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday in Central Park, Third and C streets in downtown Davis.
Dolan says eating seasonally in Ohio meant eating corn in the summer.
“It’s been a long process of understanding eating with the seasons,” she says. “You really get it when you shop the market — how the produce is tied to the weather.”
She says the market helps her feel connected to the seasons, the weather, the vagaries of farming.
“The market has completely changed how I cook and my cooking is better because I’m cooking more simply,” Dolan explains.
Shershow agrees: “Shopping the Farmers Market is pure pleasure. I like seeing what’s coming in and out of season. I like eating food that doesn’t come from a factory farm.”
They cook together almost every night, Dolan says.
“In fact, in summer when we’re working at home, we cook and eat pretty much every meal at home.”
She describes her cooking style as eclectic and ingredient-driven.
“Especially now because the ingredients are better. We often cook on a Mediterranean spectrum because that’s what’s grown here,” she says.
Shershow agrees, adding, “If I have any specialty, it’s Italian cooking. Italian recipes are perfect for farmers market cooking because they tend to highlight one seasonal ingredient. I’ve learned to cook Asian because of the Asian vegetables at the market — long beans and baby bok choy.”
On a recent Saturday, they arrive at the market at 9 a.m. with their “Hook and Go” cart in tow, several cloth shopping bags and a supply of reusable, net bags with string ties, purchased at Nugget Market.
“I think the net bags are great because they’re washable,” Dolan explains. “And the seller can see what’s in the bag when he weighs it. Bag management is a huge part of my market shopping.”
They start shopping at Lloyd’s Produce, where Shershow picks out peppers for a srirachi sauce.
At the Madisons’ stand, they buy three rayaan melons and a watermelon to make frozen yogurt. Dolan’s recipe calls for three-quarters fruit puree and one-quarter Greek yogurt, yielding a dessert that’s between a sorbet and a frozen yogurt.
She says fruit from the market is great: “That’s why I bought four melons! We like melons. I have a huge fruit bowl, and I also make jams, chutneys and pies. But the majority of the fruit we buy is eaten as is because it’s so good.”
Next stop is Atallah’s Madison Growers for Persian cucumbers. At Mission Fresh Fish, they purchase rock cod they’ll cook in yogurt with Indian spices on a bed of onions.
At Nicolau Farms, they buy classic chevre.
Dolan says, “I love that the market has several cheese sellers,” and Shershow chimes in, “And more meat sellers.”
They double back to Lloyd’s Produce for heirloom tomatoes, while Dolan talks about their love of salads with beans, all kinds of grains and vegetables.
At Fiddler’s Green Farm, Shershow picks out French zucchini and Dolan suggests adding some squash blossoms.
Glancing around the market as they shop, Shershow muses, “This is such a nice way to start a Saturday.”
At Grow-Rite Farms, they buy three baskets of strawberries for frozen yogurt.
They purchase sliced almonds at Portello Ranch, then move on to Good Humus. Dolan says they used to get a weekly CSA box. “But we enjoy shopping so much, we stopped.” They choose eggplant, basil, new potatoes and cherry tomatoes.
They backtrack to Cadena Farms for Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes. While there, Shershow notices nopales and says, “We’ve never cooked nopales before.”
A nearby shopper looks up and says, “They’re so easy and so good. They’ve done all the work for you. Just slice them in strips and quickly sauté them.”
As Shershow picks out nopales, Dolan notes, “This always happens at Davis Farmers Market. You find something new you have to try. No matter how experienced a cook you are, you end up getting and giving advice to other customers at the market.”
At Patrick’s Mountain Grown stand, they buy blueberries, and Dolan recognizes cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan, a Davis Enterprise columnist. Once introductions are made, Dolan tells Brennan, “You got me making homemade mustard and ketchup. I bought your book, ‘Glass Pantry,’ to get started.”
Brennan replies, “Homemade condiments are quite the trend right now.”
Dolan admits that market ingredients have made her a better baker, too.
“The first time I baked with market eggs and Springhill Farms butter, I discovered that everything tasted better,” she says. “There’s such an amazing difference in the flavor of baked goods made from market ingredients.”
Next stop: Cache Creek Meat Company, where Dolan chooses a whole chicken and explains that when she gets home she’ll salt the chicken and rewrap it so it will be ready to cook later in the week.
They finish their shopping at Bledsoe Meat, where they buy a pork tenderloin and bacon.
Dolan confides, “My mom inspired me to cook. She believes that if you’re going to keep a house and cook, you should do it right.”
Dolan and Shershow say they spend about 50 percent of their food budget at the farmers market.
“It takes a kind of commitment. Once you get to know the farmers, you feel responsible for them,” she says.
“This market is a central part of my life. It’s a weekly ritual but it’s more than that. So much of the experience of living in Davis is the pleasure of the seasons, of cooking and entertaining.”
Shershow thinks for a moment and says, “It’s hard to imagine Davis without the Davis Farmers Market. Isn’t it?”
— Shelly Keller is the marketing and events manager for the Davis Farmers Market. Reach her at [email protected]