Last Saturday was the first non-rainy market in weeks. Accordingly, patrons were out in force. The tables were pretty well picked over by the time my posse and I rolled into the Clark Fork Market around noon, and the vendors exuded a collective air of exhausted contentment that seemed to manifest in a glazed look. Shoplifting would have been easy.
The early-morning crowd had cleaned out the greenhouse tomatoes and lingering asparagus, but I was able to score one of the last bags of early-season carrots. Many farmers had a limited supply of those bright-orange dirt candies at the start of the market, I gathered, and I thought I had missed the boat before I finally found a basket priced dearly at $4, because they knew they could get it. My kids quickly annihilated the carrots, making it money well spent.
Another development: The gray morels have finally arrived. While the black morels (which are brown) have for weeks been lining market tables, I’m starting to see a few of the so-called gray morels (which are either black or blond — confusing, I know). Gray morels are more dense than the blacks and more durable. I find the grays more fun to look at and to look for, which means their arrival at market is my signal to go picking.
I also saw people carrying rhubarb. Who buys rhubarb? Doesn’t everyone have a neighbor who, this time of year, is trying to pass rhubarb over the fence? Next thing you know you’ll be buying zucchini. And what about the folks standing in line for half an hour to spend $5.50 on a glass of lemonade that could be made in five minutes for $0.50?
Perhaps, I thought, I needed a local-spirits cocktail from the Badlander Catering booth to calm my nerves, but got distracted en route by a north-facing booth with an orange awning, where I picked up some heads of a romaine variety with long, delicate leaves. Then market employee Kerry Eyman showed up at the orange awning and invited my kids to watch a Tibetan singing bowl demonstration. Ditching the kids being the nerve-calming equivalent of two cocktails, I had more money to spend on food. Charlie Fungus, as I call him, had both porcinis and morels, and they were tough to pass by, but I’d remembered I wanted cucumbers, and the hour was late, so I went to the nearest Belarusian to inquire. She was out, but directed me to another that still had some at the customary three for a dollar.
The market highlight came from a Hmong table at the east end, by the Pattee cul de sac, to the left of Erin’s House of Ferments. Bunches of pea greens for $2 each. They are tender, with edible flowers. Pea greens are sweet and aromatic, and great raw or cooked. I asked the vendor for the name of his farm.
“We don’t have a name,” he said. “Just my parents growing food.” He said they’ll have pea greens all through the summer. “My mom just keeps planting them.”
The Market Report is a periodic account of the previous week’s farmers markets in Missoula. Send tips and story ideas to email@example.com.