To kick off the stories of all that happened on my trip to Tucson I thought I’d just begin at the beginning. The first real thing that we did was visit the Tucson’s Farmers Market, which I hadn’t been to in years. It’s so different (in a good way) from what it was the last time that I was there and something that Tucson should absolutely be proud of.
The Farmers’ Market
Tucson has several farmers’ markets including the one we went to at St. Philip’s Plaza, which has been going on for a little longer than a decade. It’s been seven years since I moved away from Tucson so the last time I went to the market there was at least that long ago. I used to go semi-regularly – not all of the time but fairly often. It was cute and had some great food and good people but it was small with maybe one dozen vendors. I was so surprised to get there and find that there were at least four dozen vendors spilling out across the entire plaza!
It was really wonderful to see how it’s grown. Tucson is a funny little city … people here in San Francisco often ask me about and I never know what to say but I figured it out during this trip. Tucson is what you would get if Mexico and Berkeley got together and had a baby. There’s definitely a lot of Berkeley similarities – a lot of eco-awareness, natural living and love for farmers’ market type of things. It’s definitely a city that can support a good farmers’ market and I’m glad to see this one there.
A few people have asked me how the heck there can be a farmers’ market in the desert. People think nothing grows there but this isn’t true. Most of southern Arizona is covered in farmland. There are lots of native beans that people will sell at a farmers’ market but there are also lots of small vegetable farms and you can get pretty much anything at the Tucson Farmers’ Market that you might get at a small CA farmers’ market. The exception is probably fish; I don’t recall ever seeing fish at a Tucson farmers’ market.
What We Got and Wanted
We didn’t end up buying too much at the farmers’ market because of the fact that we were going to be running errands all day and we knew that the heat would kill anything we got. It was over 100 degrees when I arrived (at the end of September!) But we did get some Cowboy Joe coffee (which, incidentally, smelled amazing when we left it roasting in that hot car later in the day!). I got a coffee to drink while we were there as well and my sister got a prickly pear juice that was way too watered down and didn’t quite taste right despite being a bold, beautiful purple color that looked like it should be yummy.
This farmers’ market has tons and tons of samples so we also tried a lot of foods. I sampled several cheeses (oh, I love cheese) and tasted flavored butter for the first time. I would definitely try that again; the one I tried was a spicy chili butter but there were others as well of course. We also sampled a fruit salsa that was absolutely amazing because it was filled with mango and other fruit but it was spicy and not too sweet. Loved that! And there was a tofu-based artichoke dip that my mom said was good but I was done trying stuff by the time we made it over there.
There were a few things I eyed and wanted but didn’t end up getting. I wanted to get some prickly pear popsicles. They looked so yummy. You can get prickly pear everything at this farmers’ market. Oddly enough I’ve never actually had prickly pear despite growing up in Tucson. I vaguely recall that I may have tasted the jelly at some point but I don’t have a strong memory of it. The other thing I really wanted was a fresh tamale but we went to go get one and they said it would be a ten minute wait and we got distracted and never went back.
Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting
The reason we got distracted was because we did an amazing olive oil and vinegar tasting. I saw an olive oil store and just had to go in and turned it to be this wonderful place. It’s a huge tasting room and you can try as many oils and vinegars as you’d like. When we were first offered a chance to taste I almost said, “no”. That’s because my sister and I had done an olive oil tasting awhile back in San Diego and left feeling kind of sick. You see, most olive oil tasting is just drinking the oil straight from little cups – no bread or anything like I’d expected – and that first time it was just too much for us. I didn’t want to do that again but the place had such great ambience that I decided to go ahead and do it. And I was glad I did.
This place actually did have some bread available that I saw but we didn’t get any. We just got small little sips, doing the vinegars first and then the oils. It was really the vinegars that I liked this time around. I must have tried a dozen different vinegars. There were white flavored vinegars that included cranberry pear, peach, and lemon. Then there were the dark balsamics that included cherry, fig, chocolate and more. The chocolate was surprisingly good and I could absolutely see just pouring a little of that on a vanilla bean ice cream!
My mom didn’t like tasting the vinegars. She felt like the vinegar taste was too strong to have by itself. Didn’t bother me a bit, though – I love shots of vinegar and these were so good! The woman who helped us with the tasting was saying that she’ll pour a balsamic over cheese and even just add a white flavored vinegar to club soda. I had to try that when I got home and that’s my new low-calorie refreshing drink that I’m all about right now. You just add a small dash of vinegar to a glass of club soda over ice. You do get a little bit of bite from the vinegar but I love it. So far I’ve done this with the cranberry, peach, lemon and even apple cider vinegar. So much healthier and more refreshing than soda!
After that we tasted the oils. I love flavored olive oil and use it a lot but drinking it straight is a bit much for me so I didn’t do too much tasting. My mom and sister did more than me. I did taste the difference between a really light EVOO and a full-bodied one (one that we tried tasted sooooo grassy, just a different brand). Some of the flavors included garlic, orange and mushroom. The mushroom was a new one to me so I did have to try that and liked it a lot.
All of the oils and vinegars have little “tasting notes” and information on them that remind me a lot of going wine tasting. It was fun. We ended up getting five bottles – cranberry pear, peach and fig vinegars and lime and mushroom oils. That night we made a huge salad with a fresh dressing of the lime oil with cranberry vinegar. We also made a huge pot of pasta with fresh mushrooms and chicken and we doused it in the mushroom olive oil. It required no other sauce and was amazing. I was so glad that we did the tasting!
Yay for the farmers’ market and St. Philip’s plaza!