Opening weekend of the Saturday Bellingham Farmers Market landed on a gorgeous spring day. Blue skies, crisp green vegetables, freshly baked bread, and a vibrant energy greeted me as I made my way through the crowd. Like many in our area, I enjoy the sense of rebirth and community I find at the market.
Today’s mission — to find this spring’s new vendors, five of which have joined the market. Some are established local businesses opening stalls for the first time, and others are totally new businesses. I was able to catch up with the owners of two stands; Pangea and Cafe Vavilov.
First I wandered over to Pangea, a fermented food vendor that opened shop in October of 2015 and whose unique brand of fermented foods can be found at numerous area retailers.
Front-and-center were samples of kimchi and sauerkraut. I’m not one to resist a sample, so I pointed to the bright orange kimchi and asked if it was spicy. “Not too spicy”, replied the smiling man behind the table. I introduced myself, and shook hands with Pangea owner Braeden Kaemingk.
He encouraged me to try a few samples. Being a kimchi fan myself, I was eager to try his version of the traditional Korean veggie mix. I took it like a shot, but let the flavors develop in my mouth–a little kick, the classic fermented tang and a satisfying saltiness. His recipe contains Napa cabbage, daikon, Fuji apples, carrots, Korean chili pepper, Celtic sea salt, garlic, ginger root and green onion.
Inspired by the unique flavors of fermented foods, the health benefits, and time spent in Southeast Asia, Braeden has honed his fermentation process to a fine art. In addition to kimchi, he ferments sauerkraut and spicy pickles.
Braeden’s goal “is to bring new and unique raw fermented foods here to the Pacific Northwest and in doing so, grow a healthy local food economy”.
You can find Pangea products all around town, but Braeden decided the the farmers market was his next move. He enjoys connecting with the community including fellow vendors, supporting other local vendors, and of course sharing his pungent products with Farmers Market visitors.
If you’re curious, but perhaps a little iffy about jumping into fermented foods, Braeden has several suggestions on how to enjoy the products. For example, he recommends adding his 3 Seed Sauerkraut to a reuben, a brat, a salad, or eating it from the jar. His favorite right now? Kimchi atop the Korean rice dish, bibimbap.
Braeden explained that he chose Pangea (the name of Earth’s original, single landmass that later separated to form the various continents), “as a symbol of global (connectivity) through ‘cultures’ – pun intended”. After sampling a few more of the “cultures”, I thanked Braeden and moved on.
Cafe Vavilov was my next stop. The first thing to catch my eye was the sophisticated and thoughtful aesthetic of the stand—a straw-flower garland hung over the Spelt Buttermilk Biscuits and the Pine Cone Madeleines. Cookies scented with pine resin and delicately dusted with powdered sugar sat next to slabs of hearty, rustic bread and greens that looked as though they were picked that morning. Fresh flowers in a milk bottle graced the corner of the table.
Every detail was in place, and it made me want to sit and enjoy the subtleties of the tempting flavor combinations on the menu, like maple honey with toasted walnuts and tahini and grape molasses. Erica Budzinski, mastermind of the stand, describes the cafe as “farm comfort-food.”
The menu features some standard plates that vary weekly, depending on what’s fresh. A Farmer’s Plate, Vegan Farmer’s plate, a sandwich variation and a Biscuit Small Plate are standards on the menu, with other plates like Golden Grits or Warm Black Lentils offered in addition. A recent Farmer’s Plate offered Mizuna and early spring herbs, radishes, Sunchoke pickles, D’Anjou pear, Twin Sisters white cheese with peppercorn, egg, olives, tomato marmalade, tahini and carob molasses, mascarpone and coffee blossom honey and Raven bread. While the Farmer’s Plate offers the fresh greens, seasonal veggies, boiled egg, cheese, bread and homemade sauces weekly, the plate is different every week depending on what’s fresh and Erica’s creative flavor combinations that week.
I caught up with Erica after the market, curious about the roots of her business. Her inspiration and knowledge come from experiences working in kitchens around the country, farming, working with chefs, plant breeders and farmers, and finally traveling. “My curiosity has taken me into kitchens throughout all of my travels,” she explained. She went on, “During my time living in Romania, I learned preservation and fermentation techniques from (local) grandmothers that brought me into their kitchens”.
A key inspiration and company namesake, Nikolai Vavilov, was a Russian seed collector and plant breeder, who worked to end world hunger and preserve plant varieties from around the world. According to Erica, his inspired her to try new varieties of plants on their farm, as well as in the kitchen, where she brings their unique flavors to life.
Kombucha Town specializes in another fermented product, that sweetened bubbly drink with good-for-your-belly bacteria. The Aloha Poke stand is the extension of the recently opened store front in Fairhaven. They serve fish salad or rice bowls seasoned with authentic Hawaiian flavors. Finally, Sea to Shore Seafood Co. is a farm-to-table seafood vendor, catching the seafood and then directly selling it at the market. Check out these new vendors in addition to your favorites next time you stop by the market.
In addition to the new vendors, the market is celebrating its 25th anniversary with history tours, special discounts, the annual Nonprofit Fair, the Cabbage Toss with Mayor Linville, and something vital to every good celebration—cake! See you there next Saturday.