My name is Ashley Mason, and I’m a graduate student who lived in Tucson for five years while working on my PhD. My husband Evan works in tech. We love to play scrabble, frequent farmers markets, drink wine while cooking, and eat dark chocolate while watching The Daily Show. We’ve been novice weight lifters for about four years. We are leaving our treasured Tucson to move to Palo Alto in just two weeks’ time for his work and my residency.
Farmers Market Update: Tucson
by Ashley Mason
When people hear “Tucson,” they often think, “hot, unbearable heat” and “dry, cactus-filled desert.” Indeed, these are both true, but a whole lot of wonderful produce grows here, and there is quite a bit of pasture on which to raise animals. Tucson is a relatively small town, and home to a variety of small farmers markets.
The good news is that no matter where one lives, there is a market nearby. Here, though, one has to come to market early, or risk missing some of the best picks—to other people, or to the heat, whichever arrives first. My husband and I generally like to purchase our eggs, vegetables, cheeses, beef, fruits, and bacon at the markets, so we generally cover two markets each weekend. This was our last weekend venture to these markets before our move to California.
The Philips Plaza Tucson farmers market, located north of Tucson proper, is a Tucson gem. One can find a variety of eggs (duck, quail, peacock, or chicken), local cheeses (especially goat cheeses), breads, and of course, fruits and vegetables. The market this August was brimming with peaches and squash. This week I hosted a brunch for several friends who love spicy food and wanted to make a quiche, so I was particularly after eggs and anything I could incorporate into the quiche or as a side.
The Fiore de Capra sells goat’s milk cheeses that are just to die for. From spreads to solid cheeses for slicing, they have quite the variety. Their cheeses are tangy and have a fabulous texture, not a bit grainy. One of the best things is that the marinades that the cheeses are packed in (olive oil and various peppers, peppercorns, etc.) makes a wonderful marinade for chicken or other vegetables long after the cheese is gone. I opted for a baked goat brie wedge and a goat cheese marinated in a mixture of olive oil and jabanero peppers. Who doesn’t want to wake up to a goat cheese quiche?
The Village Bakehouse is a famous-to-Tucson local bakery that specializes in breads. At this booth if you ask for olive bread, whichever baker is working will likely ask you what type of olives you prefer. They also make excellent pecan rolls. My husband has a soft spot for these, so we picked one up.
Maria of Durazo’s Poco Loco Specialty Salsas has something for everyone. Our favorite? Her chunky pico de gallo, made with home-roasted local chiles. Although one might think of tomatoes as the primary ingredient here, Maria focuses heavily on the natural oils in the chiles when she describes each of her offerings. She also makes wonderful fruit salsas with peaches and mangos. Evan actually plops this salsa in the pan with his eggs every morning, and the smell of roasted green chiles floods our apartment.
Right by Durazo’s is Tortilla Arevalo, which sells mesquite flour tortillas, corn tortillas, tamales, and homemade chips deep fried in olive oil. These are a real treat.
Grammy’s Garden, located in Wilcox Arizona, always has wonderful produce. The sweet potatoes are awesome, especially when roasted with a mixture of coconut oil, paprika, and cinnamon. They also grow a variety of tomatoes and other well-known vegetable varieties. I picked up a few sweet potatoes and started dreaming up a curried sweet potato hash side dish.
These cherry tomatoes were delicious—flavorful, sweet, and perfect for roasting or simply eating drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. We decided these would make a lovely roasted tomato side dish. We picked up a couple of pints of cherry tomatoes.
George and his grandmother oversee the production of a variety of pickled and preserved vegetables, as well as jams and jellies.
My husband and I normally buy a lot of yellow squash, and frequently make Darya’s “pasta” recipe by using a peeler to create large fettuccine noodles, but this week we held out for some different squashes that are not as frequently available. Larry’s Veggies is an excellent place for all things squash. They always have a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes of squash, and this week I was in the mood for something different.
Crook-neck squash and large summer squashes are excellent both cooked and raw. The smaller crook neck squashes are actually on the sweet side this year, and when sliced, make excellent “chips” for salsa or guacamole dipping. We like to thinly slice the larger squash and layer the slices with goat cheese and homemade marinara sauce, and bake it into a sort of “lasagna.”
Larry’s also has eggs from their small flock of chickens, and the yolks are almost the color of a florida navel orange. I picked up a variety of squashes and the last dozen of eggs, along with a hefty bag of baby lettuces and a couple cloves of garlic.
I’d already gotten cherry tomatoes, but these looked good too!
We picked up several squash from Leo Big D Farms. The purple okra looked beautiful, too.
Wilcox peaches, which are actually cling peaches, are a must if you can find them in August in Tucson. They are the most delicious peaches I’ve ever had. They are small, but the flavor is intense. Delicious (and a sticky mess) in the car on the way home, but also when sliced and mixed with fresh blueberries. I purchased a few pounds from Grammy’s Farm. We cite these peaches for our complete disinterest in store-bought peaches.
It would not be a Tucson market without some chili offerings. These jalapeños were on the cusp of becoming the hottest that they ever will. A lone jalapeño was the first to start to turn color. We chose a very small one to mince for the quiche.
Since we knew we would need a good deal of eggs, and had some hopes for bacon and homemade beef breakfast sausage, we had also driven 10 minutes north to the Oro Valley farmers market the previous day (Saturday), just outside of Tucson city limits, to get some eggs and meats.
The grassfed beef from Sombrero Butte Beef company is unbelievable. Laurie, the ranch owner, and her husband, raise the cattle and slaughter approximately two per month. For over a year, Laurie set aside tenderloin roasts for me, and we used them at our wedding this past June in Chicago. The TSA at the airport got to know me as “the beef lady” as I carted frozen beef to Chicago four times over the course of the year! Laurie also occasionally has local bacon—a real treat. We picked up a couple pounds of ground beef to make into beef sausage patties, along with a couple pounds of bacon. Earlier in the week, I’d gotten some spices from Penzeys that I use to make “sausage.”
This family runs the Rancho Chico Eggs, which specializes in a variety of eggs, from chicken eggs to peacock eggs. The couple who run this booth are engineers who also have a knack for raising chickens and other birds, and bring their five children with them every week.
The children are often over by Laurie’s beef stand, snacking on whatever she’s cooked up to sample, but always come back to greet customers. I average two hugs per visit from the little girls. We picked up a dozen chicken eggs here.
In total, we had wonderful ingredients for the brunch. We made a goat cheese quiche with baby greens and pico de gallo, curried sweet potato hash, bacon, grass-fed beef sausages, roasted cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, and sliced peaches. Everything was a hit, not a leftover in sight! Later that week, we made the above-mentioned “lasagna,” also delicious.
- 2 pounds grass fed ground beef from Sombrero Butte Beef Company
- 2 pounds local bacon from Sombrero Butte Beef Company
- 3 pounds Wilcox (cling) peaches from Grammy’s Garden
- 1 pint mild pico de gallo salsa from Durazo’s Poco Loco Specialty Salsas
- 1 spaghetti squash from Sleeping Frogs Farms
- 1 bag mixed lettuces from Larry’s Veggies
- 1 tiny jalapeno from Leo Big D Farms
- 1 dozen eggs from Larry’s Veggies
- 1 dozen eggs from Rancho Chico Eggs
- 1 package goat cheese marinated in jabanero peppers and olive oil
- 1 baked goat cheese brie wedge from Fiore de Capra cheeses
- 3 large sweet potatoes from Grammy’s Garden
- Several two-tone squash from Leo Big D Farms
- Several summer squash from Larry’s Veggies
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes from Grammy’s Garden
- 1 pecan roll from The Village Bakehouse (didn’t make it home! Devoured in the car.)
What was at your farmers market this week?