Picnicking in the Beaverton Farmers Market Labyrinth

beavertonsign2Despite the sulky grey skies and morose drizzles that have blanketed our fair city of late, signs of summer were everywhere this Saturday at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

There were rows upon rows of ruby-hued raspberries and strawberries, bushels of Rainier and Chelan cherries, fresh watermelon juice, smoking grills lined with racks of barbecued ribs and juicy German bratwurst, buckets of rosy peony blossoms, coconut gelato, sweet tiny golden cherry tomatoes, crates piled high with fat buttery fava beans, tall cups of fresh-squeezed lemonade on ice, and little red Radio Flyer wagons filled with produce and toddlers displaying diverse levels of agreeability.
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Since nothing says summer like a picnic, my market mission was twofold–assemble the perfect picnic using items gathered exclusively from BFM vendors, and convince Mother Nature to allow the sun to come out and play, even if just for an hour.

Being a devoted city girl, I’d only been to downtown Beaverton once before, but with the help of my trusty iPhone, I easily found the downtown core. It’s old-fashioned and rather charming–the quaint shops and quiet tree-lined streets seem far removed from the sprawling mess of car dealerships and fast food outlets that line SW Canyon Road on your way in. The parking lot that houses the market is framed by the attractive Beaverton Public Library, and Beaverton City Park, which boasts expansive, immaculately-manicured lawns, pretty hanging flower baskets, leafy trees, and very few dog doody infractions–an excellent picnicking environment.

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If you’ve got children, the City Park Fountain, which opens daily at 8am during market season, is a real kid pleaser. We also had a small band of enthusiastic hula hoopers set up shop behind our picnic blanket.
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You know that old Jim Henson movie The Labyrinth, where a young Jennifer Connelly is given 13 hours to navigate an elaborate maze of surprises and peculiarities in search of her baby brother, who’s been stolen by goblins? That’s sort of what the Beaverton Farmers Market feels like, minus David Bowie in tights and the goblin-filched-baby plotline.

BFM is the largest all-agricultural market in the state of Oregon, with almost 200 vendors and up to 20,000 weekly attendees, and once you start wandering the labyrinthine, seemingly-endless aisles of fresh produce, jams, cheeses, oysters, eggs, seafood, cured meats, wine, bread, pastries, coffee, cut flowers, smoked ribs and chocolate, before you know it, about 13 hours have passed, you have mysterious chocolate stains on your cheek and you smell vaguely of barbecue, you’re gripping a sample of Dave’s Killer Bread smeared with Rose City Pepperheads jelly ”for later”, there are Alotto raspberry gelato drips on your white t-shirt, you can’t remember where you parked the car for the life of you {which could be attributed to the multiple wine tasting(s)}, you have an inexplicable yearning to own a hanging basket of petunias the size of your missing car, and you’ve somehow accumulated enough fresh produce and other edible whatnot to feed a goblin army. Good thing the market has drop zones for overzealous shoppers to stash their bounty while they continue to hoard, and a drive-up vehicle loading zone. They do not have vehicle-finding services however; that is your burden to bear.

When you’re on the hunt for picnic fare, you can either choose from the myriad of prepared food choices dished up by vendors like Smokin’ Rose BBQ (ribs & brisket), Pacific Pie Company (savory pies), Canby Asparagus Farm (tamales, tacos, tortillas), Hoda’s (Lebanese cuisine), Fetzer’s Sausages (German-style sausages), and Tastebud Farm (bagels, pizza, pita sandwiches), with liquid refreshments provided by Hot Lips Soda (fruit sodas), Liquid Sunshine (lemonade), and Pony Espresso, among many, many others (full list here), or you can Do It Yourself.

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We stopped for dark, crusty beer bread at Fressen Artisan Bakery‘s booth, and hand-crafted Swiss cheese from Rosecrest Farm, a certified organic dairy that makes a half dozen or so delicious Swiss cheeses, a few of which you can also find at Cheese Bar, owner Sharon McCool told us. To complement the beer bread and cheese, we stopped for bratwurst on a stick at Fetzer’s, and European-style charcuterie at Olympic Provisions.

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Denison Farms, Baird Family Orchards, Unger Farms, Deep Roots Farms, Liepold Farms, The Berry Patch, Spring Hill Farm, and so many other booths sucked us in with heaps and mounds and rows and bushels of fresh fruit and vegetables, and we filled our bags with picnic-friendly sugar snap peas, white raspberries, cherries, radishes, and pickled asparagus. Always thinking ahead to dinner, we socked away basil and fava beans and fennel and mint and Nonna’s Noodles for the makings of a beautiful early summer pasta.

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There were luxuries to be had–we splurged on a bunch of cheery pink peonies, a bottle of Pinot Gris Rosé from Arcane Cellars, and assorted chocolates from Suzanne’s Chocolaterie, and since there were so many berries simply begging to be dipped in something decadent, we picked up a jar of creamy Two Brothers chocolate sauce, made with Guittard chocolate, and made without any corn syrup.

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Along the way we coveted the Japanese maples from Happy Valley’s Red Dragon Nursery, and the lush 6-foot-tall hanging perennial baskets from Ross Nursery in Canby.

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berrywitchocMother Nature came through weather-wise–just as we sat down and spread out our feast in City Park, the clouds grew wispy and retreated and the sun broke through, making us wish we’d brought our itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikinis so we could go in the fountain. Although considering how many of these we’d been eating, donning diminutive swimwear probably wouldn’t have been wise.

And finally, the perfect Beaverton Farmers Market picnic was born. Go on, it’s okay to be a little jealous.

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