Okanagan Market Medley

Sweet dumpling squash, you say? I had to ask the guy at the roadside stand about the cream-coloured, green-striped veggies—some round, some oblong—heaped in a bin with the pumpkins and spaghetti squash. It was my first encounter and I was uncertain, but he assured me that you cook them just like any other squash. I loaded a couple into my bag.

That’s a great thing about prowling Okanagan fruit and veggie stands; you never know what you’re going to find and every once in a while there’s a personal discovery.

South Okanagan

Driving down Hwy 97 in the south end of the Valley you never have to get out of the car for entertainment. Signs as colourful as the wares they tout run the gamut from glitzy eye-catchers to humble purveyors of information. I get a particular charge out of the multi-cultural element as goat curry and samosas share billing with yellow Hungarian peppers and plain old Okanagan corn.

The minute I get south of McIntyre Bluff I roll down the windows to let in the scent of ripe apples, an aroma that immediately transports me to super happy childhood memories. I feel like I’m moving through a class in art history. A turn in the blacktop reveals a field of Van Gogh sunflowers. The fleeting impression of an espalier orchard, it’s wire-strung greenery dotted with pink apples, could be signed by Renoir, and a bucolic landscape puts me in mind of Emily Carr’s French period.

Penticton Farmers’ Market

One sunny Saturday morning I trekked to Penticton for the Farmers’ Market, which actually strikes me as more of a Portobello Road-style street market. To a soundtrack of loud CCR covers, smooth jazz, lilting Celtic reels and soulful didgeridoo music (depending on which busker I was passing), I threaded among stalls and lingered over food truck aromas. With all the jewellery, greeting cards, massage tables, glassware, wood carving, clothing and on and on, I  began to wonder about the farmers. Then I discovered a concentration of canopied stands brimming with cucumbers, radishes, beets, potatoes, beans, zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, pears, apples, plums, baked goods, preserves—yes, and even more pumpkins and squash. My mental recipe index went into overdrive and I started stuffing bags.

Kelowna

Back in Kelowna, I made another discovery in an unexpected place. I know there are lots of good farm stands in the southern and eastern neighbourhoods of the city and more up toward Lake Country, but I really hadn’t registered a great resource right downtown. I’ve driven by the BC Fruit Packers Cooperative on Clement Avenue about a gajillion times, sort of half-noticing the piles of red apple boxes out front. This week those boxes triggered a response.

Remember that childhood memory I mentioned? It’s a great memory of picking fat McIntosh apples, crisp and still on the green side. I’d pluck them from my grandpa’s trees, shine them up on my hip and start munching right there in the orchard. I miss Macs.

Driving among the orchards these days I see lots of green, yellow and rosy pink fruit. But to me, apples should be red—vibrant, pulsing red, with maybe a little bright green for contrast. The colour of a good Mac. But just try to find one. On impulse I swung into the parking lot of the chunky warehouse and there they were. Right out front, a big bin of happiness. Find your own happiness in an Okanagan farm market near you.

This story was published in Okanagan Life Magazine, October 2013.