Small Town, Big Market-Port Townsend
A day trip to the Port Townsend’s farmer’s market
BY WILL O’DONNELL AND KERRI HARTMAN
Port Townsend is known for many things: historic buildings, wooden boats, walkability and the sort of scenery that makes people move here from other, likely warmer, regions. But day trips aren’t any fun if the food isn’t good, and that might explain the town’s recent notoriety. It’s delicious.
Jefferson County is home to many organic farms, three farmstead cideries, four goat dairies, and one of the largest small-town farmer’s markets in the nation. The Port Townsend Farmers Market (May thru December, Saturdays 9am to 2pm), is Washington’s seventh largest in gross sales. In 2009, the market saw sales of $900,000 in a town of less than 9000. It’s become a destination for culinary travelers, as it is the premier showcase of the Olympic Peninsula’s burgeoning local food movement.
The journey to Port Townsend is often half the fun, especially if you take the ferry in from Keystone (a half hour journey from Whidbey island, with stunning views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, and the possibility of porpoises following your boat; reservations highly encouraged during weekend sailings). Once you dock, getting to the market is similarly pleasurable—especially if you walk. The market is less than a half mile from the ferry dock, but you’ll need to gain a little elevation to get to its uptown location on Tyler and Lawrence. The market is located on Tyler St. in a closed-off block between Lawrence and Clay. It is bordered on the east by the Uptown Community Center, with its sloping lawn and playground.
To walk to the market, head north on Taylor from Water St, and take the tall staircase leading up from Haller Fountain. From the top of the stairs, follow the sidewalk to the market—three blocks west and north. It can be intimidating, but the eclairs at the market make the climb worth it. Anca, the market’s pastry artist, was born and raised in Romania, and her beautiful fruit tarts, cookies and eclairs give visitors a delicious taste of classical European baking. Pair with an espresso con panna from Java Gypsy’s mobile coffee stand and you will be recharged and ready to see the rest of the market.
Let’s start with produce. Midori Farms has one of the more unique vegetable stands. They grow and sell a broad range of vegetables from their three-acre farm near Port Townsend’s western limits. They specialize in Asian varieties (bok choi, Japanese eggplant, harukei turnips, burdock), some of which turn up in their tasty line of fermented foods. Pick up a jar or two of their Savorykraut (which is the best sauerkraut you’ve never had, with plenty of caraway seeds and a bright lively taste and nice crunch) or Cortido, which is somewhere between a sauerkraut and kimchi, and can be used like a savory salsa.
Cape Cleare doesn’t have anything in a jar, but it’s close: they sell line-caught tuna in a can. Everything they sell is line caught, and whether it be the canned tuna, whole salmon, ling cod or black cod, it is exquisitely handled. Each week 250 pounds of fish is pulled five miles to market by bicycle (think semi-truck, but in bike form). As you might remember from your own climb up the stairs, those five miles aren’t flat. It’s an impressive dedication to lowering the fishery’s carbon footprint.
At the market, the bikes are parked, and an umbrella is mounted onto the trailer. A simple chalkboard product list is placed in front of the stand and they are open for business. Whole salmon, salmon steaks, and filets, mostly frozen. “Flash frozen,” explains fisherman/owner Rick Oltman. He has a long sermon on this point; the education has been a challenge. People want “fresh” salmon,” meaning not frozen. But as Rick explains, with most fisheries based in Alaska these days, what customers are often getting has been either flown in prefrozen and thawed in the shop, or is unnecessarily old and possibly a deteriorated product. Cape Cleare Salmon is frozen at sea, moments after being caught and cleaned. Fish are caught one at a time, on a two to three person boat. Within minutes of landing in the boat, each fish is dipped in brine and flash frozen at 40 below. There is no chance for degradation, and consequently every fish Rick catches is sashimi grade. Each has a clean, rich flavor that requires no adornment and takes little effort to prepare. Cook on high heat, quickly, with little more than sea salt.
Unless, perhaps, you were hoping to have an egg on top. Which you can have—for breakfast, at the market, right next door to the fish bikes. For years, Rick had a vision, and a collection of spare parts: vintage auto trim, scraps of stainless steel, a Wolf grill, a sink. One Saturday he arrived at the market with the result: the salmon wagon, a 10-foot long, stainless steel, self-contained salmon-cooking cart. It’s been at the market ever since, with long lines of locals ordering salmon plates (with a side of local salad mix and ciabatta) or salmon sandwiches (with an egg on top, the sandwich is called the Big Bob). In the fall, you can follow Rick about a mile downhill, to the boat haven, and buy fish right off the boat; the Cape Cleare, which is a modest and handsome trawler.
You can follow Finnriver Farm on their way out of town as well, but you’ll need a car, or a bike if you’re hardy (it’s about 12 miles, mostly downhill, look up the Larry Scott Trail for a fun way to cover most of the miles). On the farm you can rent a guest room, visit their cider tasting room, and lose yourself in the acres of u-pick berries. In town, you’ll have to be content with their market booth, where they are easy to find at the northeastern corner.
Finnriver, owned by Keith and Crystie Kisler, was started in 2005. Keith was born and raised on a 1,000 acre wheat farm in eastern Washington (driving combines before he was licensed to drive automobiles), and has been helping to pioneer the revival of grain farming on the Olympic Peninsula. At the booth, you can grind Finnriver’s local organic grains with Keith’s homemade bicycle-powered mill. Choose between spelt, hard red wheat, emmer and rye.
Finnriver started with berries (mostly blueberries), and in the fall you’ll find the last of them, the late harvest berries. Raspberries are still around, and the apples start to drop, especially the early varieties like transparents. While the berries and apples are only available fresh seasonally, you can find them bottled year round in Finnriver’s line of hard cider. There’s the champagne style in the green label, or the rustic in red. (There’s a version with blueberries as well.) Not content with grain, berries and cider, Finnriver also sell a variety of vegetables and eggs, thereby minimizing your need to visit any other stand.
What Finnriver doesn’t have is cheese. Five years ago there was no cheese at the Port Townsend Farmers Market, a sad fact considering the number of dairies that the Olympic peninsula used to support. Mt Townsend Creamery changed that when they introduced their first three cheeses four ago: Trailhead Tomme, Cirrus (camembert) and the well known Sea Stack. All are made with whole cow’s milk from local dairies. Now you’ll find Truffled fromage blanc, fresh cheese curds, New Moon Jack, and washed rind tommettes at their stand. Want to see how they are made? On your way out of town visit the creamery and retail store, about two miles from the market as you head out of town on Sims Way.
Ferry schedules and reservations: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries
Sidebar: Places for Picnics
Will O’Donnell is the director of the Jefferson County Farmers Market, a nonprofit organization that operates the Port Townsend market on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and a new Chimacum Farmers Market on Sundays.
Kerri Hartman lives in Port Townsend, with her husband Steve. When she’s not writing, knitting, or waitressing, she enjoys spending quiet mornings alone with her Kitchen Aid mixer.