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Farmers markets rely on curbside pickup, other measures to keep customers safe

There is a misperception about our farmers markets, especially among those who stopped attending markets once the shelter-in-place order was issued. People have told me they are staying away because they worry about all the hands that touch the produce and all the coughing and sneezing that may contaminate it.

Let me ease your worries. Customers are not rifling through the food. Many farmers are coming to market with their harvest already packed in individual bags. Those who don’t are making the selections for you, as you point at what you’d like.

Stalls have chalk markings in front of them, keeping customers at 6 feet of distance. The stalls are taped off to prevent the random hand from slipping in to grab the last carton of eggs. Booths have signs reminding us of the protocols that allow them to stay open.

There are hand-washing stations throughout the markets. Some vendors and some customers are masked and gloved.

Farmers market managers also must limit how many customers can enter a market at any given time. Farmers markets risk being shut down if they don’t follow prescribed protocols.

Another benefit of farmers markets is the supply chain. Produce and eggs pass through very few hands, often just one or two, before they are offered at a vendor’s table. And there is the added benefit of supporting our local farmers.

Several markets are beginning to offer online shopping and curbside pickup.

Details are still being worked out, but in another week, things should be working smoothly.

A few local businesses are forming partnerships, too, to assemble produce boxes. As these new endeavors firm up, you’ll find details posted at “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

Last weekend, the Santa Rosa Community Farmers Market, at Farmers Lane Plaza, had a steady flow of customers who seemed to enjoy the soft rain.

There was an abundance of fresh produce, along with meat from two Petaluma vendors, freshly fermented foods, traditional breads, gluten-free breads, tea, coffee and bagels. Manager Kelly Smith was busy packing up online orders.

Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts,on Mark West Springs Road, had a good day, too, with some vendors selling everything they brought. Min-Hee Hill Gardens had a long table full of plant starts, fresh produce and a wonderful selection of prepared foods, including its famous kimchee and sauerkraut.

Sebastopol Farmers Market has been struggling. For the last three Sundays, there have been before-dawn downpours, suppressing turnout.

Also, a lot of older people frequent the market, and many feel safest staying at home. Manager Carla Rosin is considering what sort of pre-packed farm boxes will best serve the market’s customers.

The Sonoma Valley Farmers Market, on Friday mornings at Depot Park, and the Oakmont Farmers Market, held Saturday mornings in the south side parking lot of Wells Fargo Bank, are both open. In Healdsburg, Janet Ciel, manager of Healdsburg Farmers Market, is working on opening the market on April 18.

Some popular vendors, including Armstrong Valley Farm, Pure Puer and Dominique’s Sweets, are taking a couple weeks off.

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Sausages seem particularly popular at farmers markets these days. Franco Dunn’s One World Sausages at the Santa Rosa Original and Sebastopol farmers markets are selling out early in the day.

A new vendor in Sebastopol, Takenoko Farms of Windsor, also offers sausages, along with local pork, including bacon. I used their bratwurst to make this traditional dish.

Some of their spicier sausages engage beautifully with the flavorful sauerkrauts offered by Cirque du Ferments at both markets.

Do not use chicken or turkey sausages in this dish; if you do, I can’t guarantee the results, as sausages made of poultry need a different approach.

Braised Sausages with Sauerkraut, with Variations

Makes 4 servings, easily doubled

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 sausages (1 pound), such as bratwurst

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

½ teaspoon caraway seed (optional)

- Kosher salt

2 cups dry white wine

2-3 cups sauerkraut

- Black pepper in a mill

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or other mustard of choice, plus more for serving

Pour the olive oil into a heavy sauté pan or cast iron skillet set over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook for about 1 minute.

Roll the sausage, cook for another minute, roll again and continue until the sausages are browned all over. Transfer the sausages to a plate.

Add the onion to the pan and cook until it is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the caraway seed, if using, and season lightly with kosher salt.

Return the sausages to the pan, add the white wine and enough water to cover the sausages and add the sauerkraut. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, increase the heat to medium high and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about two-thirds.

Transfer the sausages to a platter and stir the tablespoon of mustard into the sauerkraut mixture.

Taste, correct for salt as needed and add several turns of black pepper. Mound on the platter next to the sausages.

Enjoy right away, with mustard of your choice alongside.

Variations

Lightly toast four sourdough or other rolls that you have cut in half lengthwise. Set a sausage on the bottom half of each roll and top with the sauerkraut mixture. Spread the inside of the top half with a little more mustard, close the sandwiches and enjoy hot.

Use ginger-garlic sausages and ginger sauerkraut. Top with either chopped cilantro or kimchee just before serving.

For more robustly flavored sausages, use red wine instead of white wine. Add one peeled and diced carrot to the onions, add a cup of lentils that you have soaked overnight when you add the liquid and don’t add the sauerkraut at the same time.

Cook, covered, for 30 minutes, add the sauerkraut and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the flavors come together. Continue as directed in the main recipe but omit the mustard.

Instead of wine, use beer. I prefer Pilsener but you can use whatever you like or have on hand. Guinness will give you deeper, slightly sweet flavors. Sours will engage beautifully with the sauerkraut.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Journal.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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