Pepper me up



It’s a bit past 8 in the morning, hours earlier than I ever make it to the weekend’s downtown Sacramento farmers’ market—you know, the one claustrophobically tucked underneath Highway 50 near X Street, across from Southside Park. The air is still cool. A mad dash of marketers—couples with bed hair, young women in gym clothes, dads pushing strollers, stoic-looking writers clutching fabric grocery bags—are already getting their locavore on this Sunday.

The parking lot and neighboring streets yield but few spaces. Bikes abound, too. A crowd gathers at the fish guy, perhaps notorious now for slaughtering catfish and bass on-site, whacking them on the head with a pipe.

I’m looking for a few things: pluots, green beans and basil.

And red bell peppers. I love their sweet crunch with salads, sliced thin and dressed with only rice vinegar and cracked pepper. I also enjoy thick strips, used like crackers to dip into hummus.

Problem is, in spite of the cold weather, all the red peppers—and even the green, yellow and orange ones—are limpy and soft. What’s up with that?

I ask a woman from Lagorio Farming, based in Linden near Stockton, and she explains that all outdoor-grown red bell peppers will give way to the touch; only greenhouse-grown ones hold firm and bite crisp. Like the peppers in Safeway—unnatural, bright red, dense, they hold strong in ranch dressing yet don’t possess the sweet flavor of farmers’ market brethren.

But I am not a man to discriminate against any vegetable, including limp bell peppers. And, at two for a dollar, not about to balk at the price; don’t grocer and co-op peppers hover near $3 a pound?

Plus, at the end of the day, flavor reigns. And these reds don’t fail: Sliced thin and long, they’re a salad unto their own with but a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper.