Feeling fruity

The farmers’ markets opening this week bring truth, beauty and fresh produce to Northern Nevada.

Jesus sells strawberries by the seashore—out of the back of his pickup, south of Santa Cruz.

Jesus sells strawberries by the seashore—out of the back of his pickup, south of Santa Cruz.

Photo by Deidre Pike

Life has too few sweet, juicy moments. And sometimes, the effort to pursue purity, goodness, beauty and fresh fruit can be exhausting.

Good news. The odds just got better. This week, with several farmers’ markets coming to the area, the Truckee Meadows will find itself awash in squash, as well as peaches, melons, mushrooms, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, garlic and a half-dozen kinds of berries. Farmers drive trucks of fresh-picked produce hundreds of miles to sell their organic goodies at the Sparks Hometowne Farmers’ Market.

I figure they’re saving me a trip.

We aren’t above sojourning afar for fruit.

Last month, my husband, Dave, and I drove more than five hours to the California coast and bought strawberries from Jesus, who had parked his pickup along the road to Manresa Beach, about 10 minutes from Watsonville. The berries were heavenly. Jesus (hay-ZEUS) told us that the big berries/edible art had been picked that morning.

They were perfectly ripe, a just-right balance of sweet and tart. We gave Jesus $7 for half a flat—far too much fruit for the two of us.

That afternoon, Dave and I ate berries and drank Chardonnay on the surf-facing balcony of a hotel room in Monterey. That night, we ate berries with a take-out pizza as we watched the lights of ships pulling into the harbor for the night. The next morning, we had berries for breakfast. We shared berries with a valet and left a basket for the bed makers.

Dave and I took berries with us on a hike at Point Lobos State Reserve, where we watched harbor seals and argued about the ephemeral nature of beauty. (This is a switch for us. Usually, we just argue about politics.)

The coastal scenery at Point Lobos attracts a profusion of artists with their easels, paints or sketchpads. Why do they come here? What makes the area, just south of Carmel, more attractive than, say, a grungy Dumpster ripening in the sun behind a greasy diner? Dave argued that beauty must be something quantifiable, strategic, Socratic. I’m more of the mind that loveliness is in the eye of the photographer. If Hallmark sold calendars featuring glossy shots of refuse, we might live in a whole different world.

By the time we got back to Sparks the next evening, we had consumed about a third of the flat. By then, the berries weren’t looking so great. I sliced them and served them to my kids on vanilla ice cream.

OK, so I’m probably not going to get over to Watsonville more than once or twice a year. No need to panic. Every year, those Watsonville berries come to Northern Nevada for the Sparks Hometowne Farmers’ Market.

I know I probably won’t see Jesus selling berries in Sparks. From what I can tell, his outfit, Kika’s Farms, isn’t one of the two Watsonville berry reps—Mel’s Berry Farms and Rodriguez Farms—coming to the SHFM. Still, these berries are picked the morning of the market and trucked over the mountains to Victorian Avenue. They are berries fit to eat while sipping fine wine and watching a sunset—or while making your way through the crowd at the SHFM.

The Reno Farmers’ Market, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Village Shopping Center, is more functional. Parking is simpler. Shopping is much more expedient.

But the Sparks market is an event. Shoppers, clowns and babies in strollers jam downtown Sparks. Cherry pits and cigarette butts line the street. We get jostled. We get hot. I spill icy drinks on my shirt.

It’s worth it.

You have to park a few blocks away, maybe on “D” Street. As you turn onto Victorian Avenue and walk past the Sparks Museum, you see camels, or maybe one of those air-filled jumping huts with stocking-footed kids inside bouncing around like kernels of popcorn in a hot air popper.

On the north side of the street are the food folks. Here’s where you can line up for a steak taco—and unless you get to the market early, you will wait in line for one of these mouth-watering tacos made by Angelo’s Mexican Food. Vendors sell Indian food, kettle corn, margaritas, Bernard’s syrup waffle cookies, beer, jumbo onion rings and strawberry shortcake. I’m a huge fan of Bangkok Cuisine’s pad thai, even though it’s hard to maneuver a plate of stir-fried noodles through a crowd.

And this year, there’ll be a few new food options to complicate the decision-making process. Cantina Los Tres Hombres is now perched right in the middle of the action. Viaggio Italian Cuisine will also be offering goodies like phyllo-wrapped shrimp, crab ravioli and a variety of chicken dishes on a rotating basis.

Each week features a couple of bands, cooking demonstrations and whatnot. But all this is sideshow stuff. You haven’t even scoped out the actual produce. There’s plenty. White peaches, yellow peaches, cherries, plums, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries catch my eye, but there’s also fresh veggies: squash, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, garlic and artichokes, as well as almonds and olives.

The fruit sold here is at its peak. You need to buy it and eat it, because it’s not going to last for long. I bought a bag of peaches at the SHFM once and stuck them in the fridge for a couple of days. When I took them out, they were mushy, rotting globs.

You have to live in the moment. And if you have extra, you share. That’s agrarian life.

Friends and complete strangers have asked me, “Why buy fruit at the Farmer’s Market? Is it cheaper? Am I going to get a good deal?”

It’s about pursuing excellence.

Inferior fruit is a contagion of modern society. We can buy peaches at Winco/Albertson’s/Raley’s/ Scolaris/Safeway/Smith’s (WARSSS)—and this fruit will last practically forever in our refrigerator. To some, this is actually a selling point.

If you run a WARSSS produce aisle, ethylene is the enemy. The gas produced by ripening fruit will ripen other fruit. That’s why you can toss hard peaches in a brown paper bag with a black banana, and they’ll become soft and peachy fast.

A WARSSS store has to toss anything that remotely resembles ripeness. So consumers put up with hard peaches, rock-like plumbs and tasteless strawberries that outwardly look red and juicy, but instead have firm, bone-colored guts.

I don’t know why I find fresh fruit so fulfilling. I can’t attribute the goodness of produce to any media-marketing campaign. The yumminess of a dark Bing cherry or a supple, fat tomato is baffling.

Still, I believe: Embrace the ethylene and snarf down the few sweet berries that life offers.