Umbrellas at the Sebastopol Farmers Market

On Sunday, the rain paused long enough for farmers and other vendors at the Sebastopol Farmers Market to set up and for the earliest shoppers to fill their bags and head home. By 10:30 a.m. there was a light drizzle followed by some real rain and then a few minutes of sun that actually felt hot; shoppers began peeling off their outer layers but before long the dark clouds eclipsed the sun and everyone bundled up again. Colorful umbrellas opened and closed like exotic carnivorous blossoms.

“I’ve never seen happier lettuce,” Paula Downing, market manager, said. And she was so right. Lettuce is best in cool weather and likes plenty of water so this last week or so has resulted in a delicious leafy bounty, with more options for good lettuce than I’ve seen in Sebastopol this year. Orchard Farms, Triple T Ranch and Farm, Smiling Sun Farms, Armstrong Valley Farm and Laguna Farm all had beautiful crisp yet tender heads of several varieties.

Orchard Farms lettuce

Although a few vendors were missing–Black Sheep Farm and a masseuse were the two most obvious absences–the market in the rain is vibrant and diverse. Alma Rosa of Sebastopol Berry Farm had the first raspberries of the year–both red and gold–along with some spectacular bouquets of roses and hydrangeas. If you love golden raspberries, which are more delicate than red ones, buy them when you see

The first raspberries, from Sebastopol Berry Farm

them. If you wait, as I did, you’ll miss out.

Dave Legros of Bumble Bee Seafood beamed behind his spread of fish and shellfish, which included, for the first time this year, California wild king salmon, pricey at $22.95 a pound, but succulent, delicious and worth every penny. If you’re planning a luau or just longing for some poke, he has impeccable ahi, too, along with scallops, Gulf shrimp, halibut, smoked salmon and some of his own preparations, including smoked salmon spread and salmon cakes. Next to his stall, Franco Dunn offered a big selection of sausages, including Moroccan chicken sausage, maremma (with pork, potato, wine and garlic), French country, tasso (perfect for gumbo), pepperoni and, my favorite, fresh chorizo. Franco mentioned he’ll make a batch of aged chorizo sometime soon. Owen Family Farm had goat, lamb, veal and beef. There’s a wonderful selection of eggs from Triple T Ranch (with quail, chicken and duck eggs), Rainbow’s End Farm, Hector’s Honey, Armstrong Valley Farm and Smiling Sun Farm.

The first California Pacific King Salmon at the market, from Dave Legros

Nancy Skall's fresh Argentine Garlic

Garlic season is here, too, with fresh spring garlic and garlic scapes overlapping, for another week or so, with the first of the year’s dried garlic. Nancy Skall’s exceptional garlics–varieties are labeled–are a garlic aficionado’s treasure, with subtle variations in flavor and an appealing juiciness. For anyone who goes through several bulbs a week, consider Armstrong Valley Farm’s dried garlic, $4 for 8 or 9 heads.

The first of the season's dried garlic, from Armstrong Valley Farm

Hector Alvarez of Hector’s Honey recently acquired a new farm on River Rd., one that grows Asian chives, which he has been bringing to–and taking home from–several farmers markets. We don’t see a lot of Asian chives locally (though you can find them in Asian markets) and people don’t really know what to do with them. They are quite common in Korean dishes, including pancakes and kimchi and I’ll be writing about them in an upcoming Seasonal Pantry column but for now, if you’re curious, try this Korean vegetable pancake.

These strawberries, from Nancy Skall of Middleton Farms, have throngs of devoted fans

Nancy Skall’s strawberries are among the most sought-after and praised items of this market. Small, fragrant, juicy and delicious, these berries rarely make it home and many don’t even make it out of the market, as people munch their way through a basket as they stroll the stalls and linger to chat with friends. Rainbow’s End Farm also has small delicious strawberries, a French variety, along with delicious eggs, popular herb spreads, fruit chutneys and an array of flowers and other items that evolve weekly.

Rainbow's End Farm's tiny, succulent and sweet strawberries

Two vendors, Earthworker Farm and First Light Farm, have sprouts and shoots, including wheat grass, pea shoots cut to order and beautiful sunflower sprouts.

There are lots of greenskales, chards, collards, herbs, spinach and more–from several vendors, plenty of beets, zucchini and summer squash and those little garden space ships, kohlrabi, which delight some customers and confuse others. What to do with them? Grate them into salads and slaws; cut them in quarters and grill them; slice them very thin and toss them with thinly sliced radishes, lemon juice or rice wine vinegar and olive oil. Yum.

Earthworker Farm's sunflower sprouts, a perfect and prefectly delicious (and healthy) snack

Ranier cherries and Bing cherries look good now but there could be trouble ahead, as rains have split a lot of the cherries still on the tree. On the other hand, rain has been good for mushrooms and there were beautiful shiitakes at Sunday’s market.

There’s still time to plant your own garden and several vendors offered starts for everything from nasturtiums to lettuce, herbs and tomatoes. Cliff Silva of Ma & Pa’s Farm in Sebastopol will have his tomato starts, praised as some of the most reliable around, for another week or so. Robin Burton’s pepper starts look healthy and eager to grow and if you love red beets, you may want to try Triple T’s “Bulls Blood” variety; even the leaves are red.

When it comes to prepared foods, there’s plenty in Sebastopol, with fresh hearth breads from Full Circle Bakery, croissants, tarts, cookies and little cakes from Patisserie Angelica, “chips,” “crackers,” “breads,” and more from Raw Food Central, gluten-free cookies from The Cosmic Cookie Jar and a big selection, as always, from The Hummus Guy. Mateo’s Yucatan Tamales, Lata’s Indian Cuisine and Mammy’s Yammies all offered delicious selections for eating on the spot or taking home and the rain did not seem to deter anyone from enjoying a hot meal at the market.

I almost always leave a farmers market with at least one bouquet of flowers and there are several options in Sebastopol, including roses from Cliff Silva, fragrant sweet peas from Nancy Skall, and pretty little bouquets from Smiling Sun Farms. Many people think of flowers as optional, as something for a special occasion or a gift, a luxury that one can easily pass up. To me, flowers are as essential as oxygen, or nearly so.  In troubled or lean times–and I’ve had many–I spend my last few dollars on a bouquet, a small act of optimism and hope that makes the world, my world,  just a little more beautiful.

Fun with flowers at Smiling Sun Farm's stall

The Sebastopol Farmers Market takes place on Sundays in the town plaza at the corner of McKinley St. and Petaluma Ave. from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine.