I should know better than to bring a shopping list to the Downtown Farmers Market.
It doesn't work that way, I remembered as I perused the produce stalls in Pioneer Park last Saturday, the opening day of the summer market season.
Since I had a stash of leftover canned pineapple in the fridge, my plan was to make a pineapple salsa. I had my ingredient list: bell peppers, a red onion, cilantro, jalapeños.
But in my eagerness to enjoy the first Farmers Market of the season along with everybody and their dog (literally) I forgot the simple fact that it's still June, and much of what I was looking for isn't in season yet.
No, when shopping for produce at the Farmers Market, the rule is to shop first and devise a menu later. It's the real-life version of the Food Network show "Chopped," where chefs are presented with a basket of mystery ingredients and must make the best of them.
Judging by what was available, a lot of people in Salt Lake City had spinach salad with fresh strawberries and raspberries this weekend. Most of the produce sellers also had plenty of arugula, kale and garlic scapes. (I have no idea what a garlic scape is, but they were on sale.)
There were fresh tomatoes, as usual, trucked in 200 miles from the Wyomatoes Organic Farm in Big Piney. Supply and demand being what they are, Wyomatoes has no trouble charging $5 a pound for tomatoes or $2 for "tomatoes with issues," the ones that are too ugly for slicing but can be chopped up into salsa with no trouble.
This early in the market season, the best bets are the prepared foods. A walk down the center lane of Pioneer Park can yield a delicious Saturday brunch of breads, Thai noodles, pizza and countless other dishes. Or one can pick up some Rico's tamales, RubySnap cookies or Happy Monkey Hummus to take home.
Many vendors tout the health benefits of their products, though none more brazenly than the chalkboard with this message: "Poop like a boss: Drink Kombucha."
It's always crowded on the opening Saturday of the Downtown Farmers Market. It's as if the whole city has decided, en masse, to shake off Utah's unpredictable spring and grab summer with both hands. Time to dig out the short shorts and tank tops and expose our winter-bleached skin to the sun.
The region's artists were out in force, with the objects of glass, metal, fabric and what-have-you that busy hands have been constructing all winter. These craftspeople get to not only show off their wares, but also size up what their fellow artists some friends, others competitors have been doing in the off-season.
It's also time to let the dogs out. It was nearly impossible to walk amid the food stalls without running into people either carrying their small dogs or walking their big dogs and pretending that they only take up the space of a small dog.
And, every few paces, there was a rough medley of music. Kids and adults wearing "official busker" stickers performed enthusiastically and tunefully. As one walked, the strains of a high-school cellist would grow faint while the brother-and-sister guitar/tambourine combo would get louder, and so on around the park.
One person not adding to the music, for a change, was Eric Rich, operator of the famous Piano Bike that has played the Farmers Market and other venues (including Park City during Sundance) for years.
Rich and his friend Patrick Weeks had the Piano Bike there, but it has been largely dismantled. "This one was dying, and we let it die," Rich said.
Rich and Weeks are working to build a new Piano Bike and soon will launch a fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter. One of the perks for Kickstarter contributors: a piece of the original piano.
Even silent, though, the Piano Bike is a part of the Farmers Market. It belongs there as much as the produce vendors, kid musicians, pizza ovens, lawn ornaments, sundresses and four-legged friends that fill Pioneer Park each sunny Saturday.
The market is our own citywide block party, a weekly celebration of what it means to be a vibrant, offbeat community. It is also a promise that, one of these weeks, the bell peppers will be abundant.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @movecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.
Come to the Market
The Downtown Farmers Market, with farmers and other vendors selling their wares.
Where • Pioneer Park, 300 West and 300 South
When • Saturdays, now through Oct. 19.
Hours • 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tuesdays, too • Tuesdays, 4 p.m. to dusk, Aug. 6-Oct. 22.