Boulder Farmers' market, week three: spinach is in -- but no apricots, ever?
Eating local brings different joys and disappointments every year, and there's a big disappointment coming up -- as I learn from farmer John Ellis at the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday. No apricots this year, says Ellis, who runs Rancho Durazno peach orchard. Or if there are any, there will be be very, very few. The strange spring weather, deep late snows, cool nights and one profound frost have wreaked havoc on the blossoms. Cherries will be problematic, too. Most orchardists ellis he knows are in the same boat, including a farming couple who left Boulder County to invest in acres of apricots on the Western Slope and have now lost almost all their labor for the year.
WeeBee Farms lettuce at the Boulder Farmers' Market.
I feel downright sulky about this news.
Much as I love strawberries, plums, peaches and apples, nothing matches my passion for apricots: because their short season makes them seem so magical and ephemeral; because they're such a gorgeous red-gold color and so sweetly shaped and bifurcated; because John Webster's doomed and beautiful Duchess of Malfi gorged herself on "apricocks" with frank greed even after she was told they'd been ripened in manure (alas, according to seventeenth century belief, the fruits sent her into labor and strengthened the hand of her enemies). Every year I make apricot souffles, dumplings, lamb and chicken with apricots and myriad jars of apricot jam -- because what in hell are you supposed to put on a croissant if you don't have any apricot jam?
Viola flowers, perfect for scattering on salads.
Still, if the snows destroyed some crops and pushed back planting and harvesting dates for others, there are still a couple of new items on the market stalls. Red Wagon displays the year's first radishes, along with delicate little viola flowers to scatter on salads. Oxford Gardens has tender pea shoots. And mizuna, chard and refreshingly tart sorrel leaves have joined the ubiquitous bags of spinach and young kale on several stands.
Cure Farm offers skeins of wool from their rambouillet sheep in deep, living colors. Anne Cure points out the subtleties and slight variations in shade to me. Cleaning and spinning wool is "what we do at the farm when it's snowing out," she says. Several customers have asked Anne for knitting patterns to accompany the wool, and she is contemplating adding them to the farm's offerings.
Anne Cure of Cure Farm spins a yarn.
I wander from stall to stall as the crowd starts to thicken -- from a few diehards at 8 a.m. to jostling throngs by 10:30. Most participants are jovial, but you do hear the occasional grumble. Last time I was here, a bitter old man accosted a young couple with a child in a stroller and a beautiful St. Bernard pacing alongside on a leash. "Keep your dog at home," he hissed. "Oh," said the woman, startled. "I didn't know. I'm really sorry." But the man strode off, not to be mollified, his job of darkening the morning and driving away customers accomplished.
This week comes the voice of a different man, surveying the happy, bustling scene: "Maybe they should let people bring their animals and make them leave their children at home."
And there's an unexpectedly chilling reminder of the world outside cozy little Boulder. A vendor for the Denver Voice has left his bright red backpack at his spot for a swift trip to the bathroom. "Please don't do that again," the nearest farmer tells him when he returns. "People have been worrying and complaining about the unattended package."
Keep reading for a recipe for spinach soup.