The farmers' market here demonstrates how much California is still an agricultural powerhouse. Since the last time I was there, soft fruit and many more field vegetables have ripened. Who says there are no seasons here? It's cherry, apricot, peach, artichoke, green bean, and tomato season.
The smaller carrots, with greens still attached, are expensive, but they don't taste anything like pre-cut carrots that have been sitting damply in a plastic sack in the cooler of a supermarket. They are amazing.
Farming and farm people were a central theme in a book of now-forgotten Steinbeck stories I picked up at a book sale. The farmers and other residents of the Salinas valley are colorful characters. Some of the stories are just sketches, like the one where a young girl with a baby is making breakfast in a tent. I wonder what the land where they lived is used for now. Is it still growing food? Or is it all mansions and swimming pools?
California has changed enormously, of course, since Steinbeck's world existed. He writes about Mexicans and non-Mexicans. His demeaning attitude towards the Mexicans is no longer acceptable. I think the whole state is much more open to the many different ethnic communities that have come here since then.
The farmers' market offers a variety of evidence of these communities. Recently I have been reading two blogs about African cooking, so I took some time to talk to the proprietor of the stall "Flavors of East Africa," who comes from Kenya. He makes curries, sambucas, and skewers of spicy meat -- flavors that point to the East Asian spice trade that passes by that way. I asked about palm oil, which has been the subject of some blogs I've been reading recently. He doesn't use it in his food for sale, because it's expensive, but he says it's characteristic of the food there as well as in Ghana, over in West Africa, where the bloggers write about.
As I was standing at the food stand, another customer came up: a man from Senegal. When I asked about food he mentioned fufu, which he said was delicious.He told me that they use a great deal of palm oil -- he had cooked with it last night. He had to go to a Brazilian grocery store for palm oil. Yes, many communities are here.