Monday, February 21, 2011

Market Day

Sunday morning, we woke up to snow that crept down the mountains and over the foothills. It was in walking distance, albeit a long, steep walk, but close enough to almost smell.

The snow that fell in the mountains came as waves of rain here, leaving everything sparkling clean; the wildflowers responded by beginning to bloom, the peas by reaching and glowing, and the rusty wheelbarrow, forlornly left out again in the rain, by reflecting beauty.

It was the third Sunday of the month, the day for our local market, the Altadena Urban Farmers' Market. Hosted by the owners of the Zane Grey Estate, the market provides a venue for local home-farmers, cooks, and artisans to sell their wares. It is an "underground" market. The concept allows for uncertified farmers and cooks to sell in an unregulated setting because customers sign membership forms at the gates, agreeing to "waive the protection offered by the government regulation of food and food safety and exercise [their] right to make [their] own judgments based on [their] knowledge and direct communication with the grower or cook" (

The Zane Grey Estate isn't just any old historic home. The owners have been turning it into a working farm. Grape vines twist up the back slope in front of the goat paddock. Hay stacks stay dry in the solarium. It is quirky. The fact that the market is quirky naturally follows.

In the front, arranged around raised beds full of garlic, spigarello, and pink-blossomed tobacco, home farmers and cooks sell their wares. There are fresh eggs and Italian heirloom vegetables, honey from various neighborhood flowers and homemade soup, amazing ginger granola, jams, jellies, cultured sodas, pickles, homecured bacons, sustainably raised fresh chickens and game hens, and more than I can recall right now.

I sell produce from my garden and products I've made with excess produce, heirloom seeds and plants, and homemade bread. This month, I had lacinato kale, purple sprouting broccoli collards, swiss chard, frisee, mache, and arugula. As well, I had homemade bread and, since it is bean-planting time around here, a stack of heirloom bean seeds from types that have grown well for me.

Also in front of the house is a free market and cookbook swap. I always have high hopes for the cookbook swap, but sadly haven't been terribly successful in my pickings. Others seem to have had better luck.

Behind the house, next to the goat paddock, are the craft vendors.

Lily, the goat with the under bite, smiles at everyone who wanders into her neighborhood.

Down here, you'll find hand-tooled belts and cuffs, pottery, clothes and pillows made from reused vintage fabrics, soaps, and herbal salves and tinctures.

On both sides of the house, the front and the back, you'll find happy people. This is a community event, and it draws from many walks. At the sale this weekend, it felt like the event finally found its stride, a good balance of vendor types, drawing from a wider and more diverse crowd, a relaxation that hadn't been there before. A friend and I shared a tent at this weekend's sale, and she said it perfectly, "We're so isolated from each other. But this, this community and relationship building, is very healthy."

I hope to see you at an upcoming market. I'm glad you're part of my community.

Uber-Local Upside Down Meyer Lemon and Poppyseed Cake
This recipe comes from the Los Angeles Times; I've modified it to include poppyseeds and Meyer lemons. I have a Meyer lemon tree that rains fruit and two quarts of poppyseed from last year's harvest. Even the eggs came from the yard: Smalls, our lone but not lonely Marans hen, is back in full production after a winter's rest. The lemons caramelize into a layer of bittersweet, buttery goodness that tops a course-crumbed, rich cake. It's easy, and it looks like a million bucks (much better than I and my poor skills with a flash can capture).

You will need:
4 small Meyer lemons
10 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons poppyseeds

To make the cake:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice three of the lemons crosswise into 1/8 inch slices. Grate the peel off the remaining lemon, and set aside the grated peel.

In a 10 inch cast iron skillet, gently melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Once the butter has melted, brush the butter along the sides to make sure the entire inner surface has a slick of butter. Add the brown sugar to the bottom of the skillets and stir it in the skillet to combine it with the melted puddle of butter. Once the majority of the brown sugar is moistened, you've stirred enough. Spread the moistened sugar as evenly as possible in the pan.

Starting with the center, arrange the lemon slices like overlapping scales over the brown sugar-butter mixture. I arranged in a circular fashion, but that is not necessary.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining butter until smooth. Add the sugar and grated lemon peel and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, then beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate, small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat half of the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Beat until well-blended. Add the milk and beat again. Finally, add the poppyseeds and the remaining flour mixture, and beat until blended.

Spread the thick batter over the lemons to cover as evenly as possible. Place the skillet in the oven and allow it to bake 30-35 minutes.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let the skillet cool before inverting it. Give it a good five minutes to cool to a point where burning is not a threat. After five minutes of cooling, gently invert the skillet onto a large, flat plate. The cake tastes best when just warmer that room temperature.

11 comments: said...

That cake looks amazing! I agree. The market really does bring the community together. I feel so fortunate to have made new friends who have like-minded interests.

Amy said...

This market sounds nifty, amazing, wonderful, and delicious. I'm glad you shared the experience, I feel like I was there. :)

Veganistas! said...

Agree with Mothercluck! I feel like the neighborhood is evolving together towards sustainability because of the market and other local community projects that focus on food.

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

Oooooh I just love the way you tell it, Christina.

michelle said...

What a wonderful market, lucky you to be able to participate! I love your seed packages and your packaging for salad greens (coffee cans?).

I'm sorry to hear that the caper seeds didn't sprout for you. And then one of your new plants gets trampled... Arrgh, the deer do that to my plants on a regular basis. But I know that I'll be admiring photos of blooming caper bushes here one of these days...

I've also been admiring snow dusted peaks around here this week and it seems that more is on the way in a few days, perhaps even at lower elevations. Is this nasty cold weather forcast to hit you as well?

Sammie said...

I love the idea of a cookbook swap! My cookbooks could use some serious swapping! And the poppyseed lemon cake looks delicious by the way.

Christina said...

Karen: I'm so glad to have met you!

Amy: Oh, you should come! Third Sunday of every month, 1-4p--shoot me an email for more details, if you're interested.

Veganistas: It's exciting! To me, though, the community is even more important than the food.

Dianne: Why, thank you, lovely lady.

Michelle: Yes, those are coffee tins. I have had them around because I can't bear to toss them, and now I have a great use for them. Repeat customers have even been returning them. They work great. I'll send you an email with the template for the seed packets. And yes, it is pretty cold for our clime right now. You must be freezing up there!

Sammy: Oh, do try the cake. It's delicious and looks fancier than it is.

Marcia said...

Christina: I have to make that cake. It's just beautiful, and we, too, are loaded with Meyers. My poppyseed harvest might have been all of 2T, not quarts as you got. But it will do.

And I agree about the community aspect of the market. It is as valuable asa the product and products we buy and sell there.

Ashley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lynne Rees said...

The market sounds wonderful, Christina - I was writing a shopping list even though I live over 4,000 miles away. The cake looks scrumptious too - you could try switching the flash off and just having the room light on. It usually works for me with my little digital camera and I'm no photographer!

I'm not sure what a Meyer lemon is (I'm in France) but I guess ordinary lemons will do? I hope so : )

Carla said...

I was planning on making the upside-down lemon cake for an upcoming dinner. I'm glad yours worked out well. That inspires my confidence.