Farmers’ Market: Quinces and… Asparagus?

When I started this tradition of Sunday market visits, it was with all sorts of excellently ethical and healthy intentions.  I would buy directly from the farmer, thus ensuring my grocery money went to producers of goods, not middlemen!  I would buy ethically-raised meat and eggs from chickens who had been out foraging at happy free-range chicken parties all Saturday night!  I would try new fruits and vegetables!  And, above, I would finally figure out what was in season in Victoria at any given time, and eat seasonally!

Because this totally looks like the spoils of a single season.  Or not...

Because this totally looks like the spoils of a single season. Or not…

I have had some moderate success in most of these endeavours, but it must be said that when it comes to seasonality, I’m still blundering around in the dark somewhat.  True, I am aware that pomegranates and quinces are for autumn, that asparagus is for spring, that tomatoes and eggplants belong in late summer, and that cardoons are totally amazing, and also winter food.  But beyond that, all bets are off.  I’ve come to believe that this is partly because Victoria’s climate varies dramatically between regions, and partly because our weather is just deeply weird.

Take this week, for instance.  It’s autumn, so we have the new season apple stand and another stand with apples, pears, plums and quinces.  We have the mushroom man, which would be more impressively seasonal if we didn’t seem to have him at random intervals throughout the year.  We have red grapes and several stalls selling nuts, though the latter are also year-round affairs.  We definitely have more pumpkins and fewer tomatoes than we did a few weeks ago.


And we have a store selling oranges, pistachios and… asparagus.

In late autumn.

I queried this – in fact, I first queried the evidence of my eyes: surely we are now at the place where asparagus is gone until October or so?  But no, there really was asparagus.  Apparently, it’s still spring in Mildura – or at least, still quite hot.


The quince-asparagus millipede is a fabulous beast, possibly a lifer, in fact, for vegetable-bug-fanciers. It is found only in totally lunatic climates where spring and autumn don’t know if they are coming or going. Approach with care, as its sting is thought to be poisonous.

Mine not to reason why.  There is no way I’d buy asparagus from a supermarket at this time of year, but if it’s at a Farmers’ Market, then in my book, it’s seasonal, and I’m allowed to have it!  And I had it – two bunches of asparagus… and a bunch of red grapes, just to underline the insanity of this whole business.

I actually had some fairly specific recipes in mind today – even as I write this, I have chicken gently braising in the slow cooker with potatoes and lemon and garlic and herbs – and I’m also planning to make that amazing broccoli salad from the Green Kitchen again, as well as experimenting with roasting root vegetables with cinnamon and tahini and maple syrup for my Sweet Spices, Savoury Suppers challenge.  So my first stop was for broccoli, and who better to get broccoli from than from Rita’s daughter?

Purple cauliflower may turn white when you cook it, but it secretly tastes purple.

Purple cauliflower may turn white when you cook it, but it secretly tastes purple.

Not just broccoli, of course.  I couldn’t resist the sweet long peppers, the onions, the pumpkin or the eggplant, either…

Onions, with potatoes and salt.  There's something delightfully elemental about this combination, don't you think?  And it suggests a rather lovely peasanty meal. Well, apart from the gourmet salt...

Onions, with potatoes and salt. There’s something delightfully elemental about this combination, don’t you think? And it suggests a rather lovely homely meal. Well, apart from the gourmet salt…  Still, I’d happily eat a bowl full of potatoes and onions fried in butter with a little salt.

I then attempted to return to some semblance of sense, and started my usual tour of the market.  Once again, I started with Wild Dog Organics, where I bought potatoes with an interesting name which I have since forgotten (I keep wanting to call them Almaviva, but since that is the name of the Count from the Beaumarchais operas, I’m fairly sure it isn’t the name of the potatoes), as well as strawberries, garlic, and some rather lovely ‘pink blush’ cherry tomatoes that must be just about the last of the tomatoes we’ll see this year.


This rather dodgy hairdo has a lot to blush for, though I’m hardly one to talk, since I came out of the hairdresser’s yesterday resembling a clown (I’ve got the insane curls under control now, but I am still disturbingly stripy).

A new stallholder was selling a range of smoked and infused sea salts – colourful and rather gorgeous.  We tasted them all, and were particularly excited by the pink merlot and the black liquorice salt – I’m not a liquorice fan, but this was fairly subtle and went really well with the smoky smell, which has a tendency to be overpowering.


Having daydreamed happily about the merits of asparagus with liquorice salt, we moved on to inspect other vegetables.  The multicoloured carrots and slightly curly parsnip, for example, were simply crying out for my roasted root vegetable plans.  And who can resist purple cauliflower?  Not me…


I do love the dancing parsnip getting its groove on with the other root vegetables providing (what else?) a supporting act, and the backing parsnips singing along merrily…

Over at the more conventional vegetable stand, there were red onions, baby leeks, baby spinach, and tiny beetroots crying out for my attention.  Which they duly received.  I’m helpful like that.


We stopped to taste new season apples and buy eating apples and quinces for baking, and then moved on to the mushroom store, where we bought giant mushrooms for grilled mushroom and pepper sandwiches later in the week.

My next step was the French sourdough bakery for olive bread for tonight’s meal.  And maybe a chocolate croissant or two (actually, we decided against them, and then had to go back for them after all… we just can’t resist the croissants, basically…).

The makings of a Southern Italian meal: olive bread, peppers, onion, garlic...

The makings of a Southern Italian meal: olive bread, peppers, onion, garlic… we just need a few tomatoes and chillis, and maybe an anchovy or two…

And then it was a mad dash to choir, then home to photograph vegetables and start the slow cooker, before racing out to meet a friend for afternoon tea.

Vivid strawberries say "Autumn, what autumn?  We're hanging out with the baby spinach representing SPRING!"

Vivid strawberries say “Autumn, what autumn? We’re hanging out with the baby spinach representing SPRING!”

(Do you think I am the only person in Melbourne who spends an hour every fortnight posing vegetables in interesting configurations for photographic purposes?  I have a horrible suspicion that I am… Though I suppose there might be professional vegetable posers out there.  Poseurs…)

If I am, it's probably worth it for photos like this - I do love the way the light makes everything even more monochrome here.

If I am, it’s probably worth it for photos like this – I do love the way the light makes everything even more monochrome here.

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4 comments for “Farmers’ Market: Quinces and… Asparagus?

  1. April 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    It amazes me that you talk about quinces like they’re perfectly ordinary, rather than the stuff of exotic fairytales and Wikipedia articles, never to be seen with one’s own eyes (let alone tasted). What do you even do with a quince if you somehow manage to obtain one? Do you core it like an apple or a pear?

    • Catherine
      April 30, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Oh, they are definitely the stuff of exotic fairytales, too – one of those magical fruits that I will always, always buy if I see them, because they are only around for a few weeks each year! But we are lucky, living both in a Mediterranean climate (where quinces will grow) and in an area full of immigrants from the Middle East and the Mediterranean (meaning that quinces and pomegranates do actually tend to be available when in season).

      As for what to do with quinces… well, you can’t eat them raw like an apple or pear – they are hard as rocks and I think quite bitter when uncooked. I generally peel them, quarter and core them (ideally without losing any fingers – they really are appallingly hard) and then cook them slowly with a little sugar and water for as many hours as I can, until they get soft and ruby red. Gorgeous. Here one recipe I use.

      • April 30, 2013 at 10:56 pm

        I see pomegranates in stores all the time, though I’ve never bought any and only eaten some once. (I think that’s also because of Greek myth: if the first answer you hear to “What’s a pomegranate?” is “It’s the fruit they used to try to trick Persephone into being trapped in the underworld, and they partially succeeded,” you do tend to feel a little wary about them.)

        • Catherine
          April 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm

          Yes, that’s my first association with pomegranates, too. But I figure provided I don’t accept gifts of pomegranates from anyone else, or while travelling in vaguely mythic locations, I’m probably OK…

          … oh dear, I’ve just realised that my friend in the Grants Office gave me a gift of pomegranates just this week. Since working the Grants Office would pretty much be my idea of hell, I’m a little alarmed now. I’m not sure if I should eat them…

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