When visiting a farmers market, one might expect to bring home locally grown fruits and vegetables. But when visiting the Old Town Clovis Farmers Market, don’t be surprised if you walk away with a handwoven basket from Ghana, a loaf of authentic French brioche, a bagful of a popular Indonesian snack and a loofah.
Every Saturday morning — year round — vendors setup their booths on Pollasky Avenue near 5th Street and from 8 to 11:30 a.m. sell a plethora of locally grown and homemade foods and wares, many with international flavor.
Here are six unusual items you can find there:
1. Purple yam-stuffed French brioche
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Taste a sample of French brioche at Ci’s Bakery Delight booth and you won’t be able to resist buying a loaf or two. Owner Nubchi Thao was born and raised in Cholet, France. She grew up eating brioche but couldn’t find an authentic loaf when she came to the United States 15 years ago. Now, she and her husband Leng Thao, a physician at Kaiser Permanente, spend 10 hours every Friday kneading the dough and baking the bread fresh for Saturday’s market. The Thaos bake the bread in their Hanford home oven, which only fits eight loaves at a time. They make about 100 for the market.
“We’ll be up baking at 2 a.m.,” Leng said. “We take turns in the kitchen keeping our eyes open.”
Traditional French brioche is either plain or braided with chocolate, Nubchi said. In the fall, the Thaos decided to add pumpkin to some loaves and it turned out to be a hit with Clovis customers. They also have a cinnamon raisin loaf and an “Asian infusion” loaf featuring ube, or purple yam.
“It’s boiled yam mixed with eggs and evaporated milk, sugar and salt. We mix it into a paste and braid it into the bread,” Leng said.
2. Mung Bean Crackers
Head to Ninik’s Natural Foods booth to find an assortment of unusual snacks, including thin sunflower seed and sesame seed brittle, mango chutney and tempeh crunch (a trail mix-type snack featuring fermented organic soybeans).
When owner Ninik Billington offers a sample of her Mung Bean Crackers, most people respond with “what is a mung bean?” The answer: mung beans are more commonly known for their white-colored bean sprouts, regularly used in Asian dishes. The bean itself looks like a small, green pinto bean.
Mung bean crackers are made with the organic beans, rice flour, tapioca starch, oil, coconut milk, garlic, candlenuts, coriander, lime leaves, egg yolk, salt and spices. They are gluten-free and high in protein and fiber, Billington said. The crackers are a popular snack in Indonesia. Billington creates all of her snack foods in her home in Fresno.
3. Handwoven baskets from Ghana
Smiling Oranges’ booth is well-known at the farmers market for its fresh-squeezed orange and mandarin juices. But while sipping a sample of the raw juice, your eye might be drawn to the multi-colored leather-handled baskets hanging from a rope tied to the pop-up tent.
“They are handwoven in Ghana and the profits go to help the villagers supplement their income,” said Robb Colin, who works the farmers markets for his friend’s family. Vonnie Cary owns Smiling Oranges and Matthew’s Honey, based in Exeter.
The baskets come in different sizes, colors and styles. Some have one handle, others have two. One customer told Colin she bought the same type of basket that lasted 25 years; during that time she used it to shop at countless farmers markets and even to carry laundry.
Avocado honey, made by bees that pollinate avocado orchards in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, can also be found at the booth. It has a creamy, subtle taste and lower sugar content than orange blossom honey, Colin said.
You can also pick up a bar of beeswax, molded into a variety of shapes, for myriad uses. Beeswax can be used to treat leather, wax surfboards and skateboards, coat handles of hand tools and shovels to keep them from rusting, waterproof shoes and as a cosmetic moisturizer.
Here’s a fun fact: if you use a natural luffa, or loofah, in the shower, you are scrubbing your body with a squash skeleton.
Luffa is a cucumber-like gourd that is used in stir fry, soups and chutneys in various Asian cuisines. If the luffa is allowed to fully ripen and dry out on the vine, the skin can be peeled away to reveal the fibrous skeleton and seeds, said Kim Trevino of Madera-based Trevino Family Farm.
Trevino shakes the seeds out of each skeleton and allows them to dry further before bringing them to the market. It’s a long, tedious process, but luffas can last several months in the shower or kitchen.
“Then I delegate them to dirtier tasks, like scrubbing things outside or washing the car,” Trevino said.
If a luffa becomes grimey, it can be washed in the dishwasher or disinfected with a light bleach solution, she said, noting that luffas soften in water and won’t scratch glass or Teflon-coated dishes.
5. Heritage squashes
Trevino Family Farm’s booth also features a variety of unusual-looking squashes that you wouldn’t typically find in a grocery store. Yokohama and Thai squashes are featured this month.
“We change up what we bring all the time; there a squashes of different shapes, sizes and colors,” Trevino said.
How do you cook with these strange looking gourds? Trevino has several recipes and magazines spread out on a side table of the booth for ideas.
“They can be roasted, diced and sauteed, I make them into a curry … there is squash lasagna; really, you can do a lot of things with them,” Trevino said. “Our favorite is stuffed squash. We put raisins and apples and juice stuffed inside and then bake it. We serve it alongside a savory meal; it’s almost like a dessert.”
The squashes store well; they can sit on your counter or dining table as a decoration for weeks before being cooked, Trevino said.
Trevino Family Farm seems to specialize in the unusual. Along with their squashes, luffas, goat soaps, chutneys and jams, they also sell Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, which act as a potato substitute.
“It’s actually not an artichoke at all, it’s a root vegetable that grows underground,” Trevino said. “Above ground the plant has pretty foliage that look like miniature sunflowers. That’s why some people call them a sunchoke.”
The vegetable looks similar to ginger but it is not used to add flavor to dishes, Trevino said.
“You can use them in soups and stews, steam and mash them, anything you do with a potato you can do with a Jerusalem artichoke.”