If you want fresh vegetables and fruit from a farmers market, then look no further than Olmos Basin every Saturday morning.
Since the 1980s, this has been the gathering place for people in search of fresh tomatoes, okra, zucchini and melons from a large variety of vendors. Last Saturday, a dozen booths offered different types of seasonal Texas produce while a few others offered fresh eggs, grass-fed beef and herbs.
And the produce went beyond the expected to include tomatillos, figs, plums, blackberries, black-eyed peas and more.
Zamudio Farms from Natalia had shallots, beans, new potatoes, cantaloupe and seedless watermelon at its booth among others, but it was the tomatoes that most customers were interested in.
That’s Manuela Zamudio’s favorite as well. “We eat tomatoes,” she said. “It’s the one thing we can’t live without.”
She uses her tomatoes in everything from salsa to salad.
“They’re perfect over the sink with a touch of salt,” one customer chimed in.
That they are.
Or you could what I did later that evening: I sliced the tomatoes and let people eat them atop sourdough slices covered with mayonnaise. A sprinkling of dill weed or a few tears of fresh basil leaves finished off the open-faced sandwiches in style. An entire loaf of bread and three enormous tomatoes disappeared quickly.
Jose Estrada of Estrada Farms in Devine has been bringing his produce to Olmos Basin for three years now. This past Saturday he had baskets full of okra, tomatoes , figs and more. It’s been a dry year for the farmers, as well as everyone else, and Estrada was one of several farmers who talked about having to rely on irrigation to keep the plants thriving.
Also from Devine was Joe Peña of C&F Farms, who was offering baskets of mixed vegetables perfect for starting a soup stock.
It was great to encounter some vendors from previous farmers markets, including the folks from Engel Farms in Fredericksburg as well as Dora Peralta and her sister, Celio Rios, from Peralta Farms, both of whom I’d met at the San Antonio Botanical Garden’s Thursday market.
At Auntie Pen’s Backyard booth, a host of herbs and flowering plants designed to live through the Texas heat could be found. Seven varieties of basil, various styles of mint, even artichoke plants filled the tables set up by Penny and Juan Gonzalez.
The plants were all chosen because they are drought tolerant and yet still pretty, Penny said. The easy way to do that for your own home is to “look around your yard and others and see what looks good,” she suggested. “There are lots of things not struggling in the midst of this drought.”
That could be anything from chives to plumbago with its bright blue flowers.
The couple live out near Sea World and grow everything they sell, Juan said. Standing in the shade of their booth, situated under the sheltering branches of a tree, isn’t enough to keep the heat away entirely, so they use a small battery-operated fan to keep air circulating.
The market at Olmos Basin proved to be a great place to run into old friends who were also on the lookout for the freshest produce to be had that day.
Joyce Hotchkiss had to talk herself out of buying squash because she had bought some the previous week and hadn’t cooked it yet. She mentioned it to one farmer who replied that week-old squash from the farmers market should still be good as it was about as fresh as the squash you’d find in a supermarket.
I left with a bag full of tomatillos, shallots, tomatoes and a dozen fresh eggs as well as an oregano plant for the herb garden. A satisfying stop for the week. Who knows what lies in store this week?
The Olmos Basin farmers market is on Jackson Keller Road between McCullough and San Pedro. The market is from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays through the beginning of December. For a full list of Texas Department of Agriculture farmers markets in Bexar County, click here.