Funky foods await discovery at farmers market

Vendors offer tips for preparing their weirder wares

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

• What: Vancouver Farmers Market. Find both strange items and a seasonal array of local produce, flowers, plants, baked goods, food, pet treats, and accessories for home and garden.

• Where: Sixth and Esther streets, downtown Vancouver.

• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 28.

• Information: Vancouver Farmers Market or 360-737-8298.

photoHannah Berry sells a variety of pickled items at her father's stand, Oliver's, at the Vancouver Farmers Market.
photoUnusual mushrooms are among the out-of-the-ordinary foods offered at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

(/The Columbian)

With a slight seafoody smell and a dusty pumpkin color, you might consider the lobster mushroom to be the orange sheep of the farmers market produce family.

Nestled in a bin at Rick's Wild Mushrooms, near the usual array of booths at the Vancouver Farmers Market, the odd fungi can easily cause a raised eyebrow or a curious sniff.

But for those looking to try something different, they're just the cap of a tasty new world of weird that stems from approaching the market with a careful eye.

"It tastes very seafoodish," said Rick Pine, who owns the stand. "It's actually a white russula mushroom that's been attacked by parasites, which is what gives it the orange color and the flavor."

The mushrooms are common in nearby mountain areas, such as Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams.

But what do you do with them? Pine said he has the perfect recipe for lobster mushroom newbies.

"I like to sauté them with butter and garlic, put them in a white cream sauce, then add bay shrimp and fettuccine noodles," Pine said. "It makes a wonderful shrimp fettuccine."

And if that's not your thing, a little googling will turn up hundreds of recipes for the funky fungi.

"Some people even put them on pizza," Pine said.

Some years you'll find a more unusual array of items than others, said Jordan Boldt, the market's executive director, of vendor offerings.

This year hasn't been the biggest for weird vegetables, but heading into fall there's sure to be some interesting squash popping up in bins at various stands.

And some things that seem sort of normal now were considered very strange just a few years ago, Boldt said.

"A few years ago kale and some of the other greens seemed weird, but now they're more popular," Boldt said. "People do make odd things with them, though. I had kale chips once. They were horrible."

Fortunately, you can do a lot more with kale than just make nasty fake potato chips. Erica Dickson, who runs the Galin-Flory Farms stand at the market, has her own special concoction.

She likes to blanch it — or put it very briefly into boiling water and then cool it under the tap — to soften it. She then combines it with Asian peanut sauce, soy milk, and salt and pepper to make one of her favorite healthy dishes.

Liz Schober, her mother, is also a fan of greens. She had a quick recipe for chard, a vitamin-rich red and green vegetable that she admits doesn't really taste very good raw.

"A lot of people blend chard and put it in soup or smoothies because it's so nutritious," Schober said. "It's kind of like putting wheat grass in things."

Chard smoothies are great, she said, because they hide the taste but still give you the health benefits.

To start, stick a bundle of chard in the blender with a little water and mix it until it's close to a liquid. Then add one mango, one cup of raspberries or blueberries, some ice and a few splashes of apple juice and blend the mix again and it's ready to go.

"You can also add yogurt if you want, but I prefer them without it," Schober said.

If you're looking for some strange produce with a longer shelf life, Oliver's, which used to be The Garlic Lady, has a rather odd array of pickled items at its stand.

Among them are pickled okra, pickled asparagus, pickled green beans, flavored garlic and a wide variety of olives.

"A lot of people like our barbecue pickled garlic," said Hannah Berry, whose father, Allen Berry, owns the stand. "It tastes a lot like pickled barbecue sauce. It's really good on hamburgers and things."

Her mother likes to use the pickled barbecue garlic in a smoked salmon pasta dish with peas. And she uses the stand's pickled spicy Italian garlic in soups and lasagne.

"Somebody said the Italian garlic was like pickled pizza," Berry said. "I thought that was funny."

As for the okra, a lot of people eat it straight up as an appetizer, but you can also chop it up and put it in salads.

"I had one guy that said he grilled it and it was good," she said. "Although I'm not sure I'd try that."

Pickled asparagus and pickled green beans? Those are also good as snacks, in salads or chopped up.

"The asparagus is actually great in Bloody Marys, too, instead of the usual celery," Berry added.

Want something more substantial? Little Farms has you covered if you want to try a goat burger or goat chop.

"People used to turn their nose up at goat until we started sampling it," said Renee Cote-Kreinbring, co-owner of the farm. "Now they like it. We sell quite a bit. Our goat pepperoni pretty much always sells out early."

For those new to goat, Cote-Kreinbring recommends starting off with goat chops or ground goat. "It's like deer but without the gamey flavor, or like really lean beef," she said. "It also has 30 percent less fat and cholesterol than chicken."

Goat chops are made just like pork chops. Cote-Kreinbring likes them with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and grilled for about three minutes on each side.

Ground goat is good in burgers and spaghetti sauce, she said.

If you look carefully, you'll probably find a host of other unusual items amid the more standard bins of green beans, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes. And most vendors will be more than happy to give you advice on how to cook them, the market's Boldt said.

"There are a lot of interesting new things out there to try if you just look," he said.