Harsh and frigid, scalding and cracked, ancient with fossils of the inland sea that once was, and fresh with shoots that somehow rise from the earth’s snow-quenched crevices. The sky is huge and open enough to cradle both the bright, searing sun and the drenching monsoons and billows of snow that stumble in, early or late, never apologetic, each summer and winter season. Soft from afar, jagged up close; seemingly dead as a fossil, crystalized—but, just there, a fragile shoot. Part of the magic, the miracle of this place, the high desert, is the paradox of, the contrast between, the aliveness that bursts through what seems to be the uncaring, solid stillness of earth.
And then there are the people who cultivate this earth’s soil. All year at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, these men and women from their various plots of Northern New Mexico land sell the creations they’ve nurtured with their own hands. “Life for such a creation in northern New Mexico is unlike anywhere in the world,” writes Lesley S. King in photographer Douglas Merriam’s 2016 cookbook—a book born of, inspired by and in ode to the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The book, A Farm Fresh Journey Santa Fe Farmers Market Cookbook, is a gorgeous testament to the stark beauty of New Mexico as well as to Doug’s artistic talent, his ability to capture the earth, its fruit, its people. It’s the portrait of the contrast to and relationship between the New Mexico landscape, the plants that grow from it, and the people who cultivate and make these delicacies thrive. Ultimately, it’s a taste of our local earth.
The result of nearly 10 years’ cultivation, Farm Fresh Journey is the manifestation of Doug’s own passions—good food and photography. Nurtured in a home that was not run by foodie parents, Doug discovered for himself a love of food. “I wished I was born Italian,” he says, “because in my early teens, I’d go to my friend’s and the smells were intoxicating and there were these great meals.” Meanwhile, at Doug’s childhood home, “dinner [was] corn and peas out of a can and a leather pork chop.” As an adult, his career as a lifestyle and travel photographer took him near and far, often to restaurants where he captured food on film. These shoots uncovered in him a joy that “turned into a real affinity for wanting to be able to grow my own and eat good food,” Doug says. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I could plant seeds and a couple months later, I could have tomatoes.” The photographer lived vicariously through farmers, and his camera brought him close to and gave him perspective on their toils, their land, their seeds and their fruit.
Doug’s been photographing in Santa Fe some 25 years now, long enough to follow the Farmers Market to its many motley locations, getting to know the farmers, their faces and hands and produce, as they came and went over the years. He saw a place for a Santa Fe Farmers Market cookbook—one that would benefit the Market and its farmers through its proceeds—and his photography gave him the lens through which to document the lives and yields behind and on the Market tables. “I don’t think I could take the chance living as a farmer,” he explains, “so I could live vicariously by doing the cookbook.”
One Saturday, while photographing people handing money to Market vendors in exchange for their fruits and vegetables, meat and honey, Doug captured a farmer handing a bag of produce across the table. “I noticed his calloused, dirty hands,” he says, “the hands that planted the seeds.” An insight dawned in him then that “these guys are the people that grew the food, nurtured it, babied it—that’s when I realized there’s a story here that’s so much deeper than just recipes.” That story is the entwined web of earth, shoot, human labor, love, cultivation, fruit. It’s the story behind the booths of fresh food that travel to the railyard every Saturday, year-round. It’s the story of the various turns along the path of small-scale farming. It’s the Farm Fresh Journey. Doug says it’s the story of “what the farmers go through from planting” the seed “to bringing it to the market.”
Woven throughout the book, at the start of each chapter—divided by the four seasons—is the story of the green chile, from seed to fruit, through seasonal essays and beautiful photographs of the New Mexico landscape, its farmers, their produce and of course, the chile in its various manifestations of growth. “The chile pepper,” Doug says, “is the hero of the book.” And so too are the Market farmers, many of whose faces, printed on the pages of the book, will be familiar to Market-goers, and many of whom are no longer there—“it’s a real testament to the challenges,” Doug says, of small-scale farming, both generally and here in New Mexico.
The recipes are simple homages to the ingredients in their natural form, and indeed, anyone who’s tasted a carrot out of the basket at Market—or a slice of apple, a cherry, a radish, a hot slice of sausage on a toothpick—knows the ingredients stand on their own. “At times I was nervous about the precision of the recipes being collected,” Doug writes, “but more than one chef comforted me by saying that a recipe was like a map, it shows you how to get some place.”
The difficulties of assembling a cookbook based on recipes—which were often hand-scribbled at Market amid the bustle of business, without exact ingredient amounts or cooking times—from farmers and patrons initially surprised Doug, and the journey of the book’s fruition was years longer than he anticipated. “Oh my gosh, these recipes weren’t nearly what I thought they were,” he says—after all, they come from farmers, not professional chefs or recipe writers—but, “How great is that? We kept it true to the source.” The book’s 100-plus recipes include those from farmers and patrons as well as those born of years of creating and experimenting by Doug, his wife Shannon Plummer and their daughter, Sage. If Doug didn’t have the recipe for, say, “winter desserts, I’d go to Market to see what was there…honey, sweetener, cheese. And I’d start asking the farmers, ‘What do you do for dessert in the winter?’” Doug brought home the ingredients and suggestions, and worked, sometimes for years, to create the right recipe.
“Ninety-nine percent of ingredients you can get right at the Market,” Doug says, with a few exceptions like flour, salt, pepper and butter. The recipes rely “on the freshness of the ingredients at Market.” There’s something about this seemingly harsh desert soil that yields the sweetest fruit. The recipes are neither complicated nor extravagant, but straightforward, paying tribute to the ingredients, fresh from the farm; this is their delicious charm. “Our goal,” Doug explains in his introduction, “is to get you into the kitchen to feel the food in your hands, to savor the process of slicing, chopping or dicing with a good knife and a cutting board, to get your hands filled with the scents and stains of fresh ingredients. Take your time and get to know the food. Enjoying great food is the destination of the journey.”
Now 14, Doug’s daughter Sage was raised surrounded by her parent’s love of fresh food, of harvesting the land. In their home garden, Sage picked fruit right off the plant. “She was eating everything that was in a salad, but if we put a salad in front of her” she might not have eaten it, Doug says—it’s the magic of food directly from the source, scrounged by hand out of the soil. It’s the thrill known to every Market-goer, every gardener, every person who’s picked an apricot from a roadside tree. Doug tells the story of the time his daughter’s young classmates came over for a visit to the family garden, where cucumbers and cherry tomatoes were ripe on the plants. “There were two kids there that didn’t realize that that’s where food came from,” Doug says; they thought the food they ate came “from a box or a supermarket—they didn’t realize it grew out of the ground, and they just loved it.” These kids learned the delight of taking their energy directly from the source. And that’s what the Santa Fe Farmers Market Cookbook shares with us, too.
In one of her Farm Fresh narratives, Lesley puts it like this: “And when you eat the food, you just may taste the story of its journey—an apple’s resilience in skirting an early frost, a green bean’s endurance of the summer heat, or a winter squash’s welcoming of the first snowfall.” You may just taste the desert, the soil, the toil, the land, the cultivation, the very real roots that connect those of us who share this desert ground, and beyond. “The seed-to-meal journey is never straight,” Doug writes. From the photos to the stories to the food, Farm Fresh Journey is the fruit of a long and meandering voyage much like that of the chile seed that manages to survive its way to the flame—along with all of the various plants and animals born of and grown in our high-desert soil, “where a combination of altitude and dryness work together to transform what might be an ordinary vegetable or fruit into a heroic one.”
Visit farmfreshjourney.com to buy A Farm Fresh Journey and to read Lesley King’s beautiful profiles of the farmers and their farms. You can also find Doug at the Market on select Saturdays, books on hand. A percentage of each copy is donated to the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
The following recipes are excerpted from Douglas Merriam’s Farm Fresh Journey Santa Fe Farmers Market Cookbook. The introductions were written by Doug.
Beet Medley Sauté
I made this dish after getting a lot of beets in my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) allotment week after week and not knowing what to do with them other than roasting. Wen I asked farmer Adam Mackie for a suggestion, he told me to heat up some oil and garlic in a skillet and sauté the beets for a change of pace, and to throw the greens and stems in there, too, with a little wine to finish it off. The great thing about this recipe is you can add anything you want and you really can’t go wrong. After one trip to Market, I added turnips and peas, too. My family makes versions of this all the time now, adding whatever we bring home from Market.
½ pound beets, halved and sliced, greens removed and saved
½ pound turnips, halved and sliced, greens removed and saved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound radishes, sliced, greens removed
1 cup fresh shelled young peas (from about 1 pound pea pods)
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry white wine
Remove the greens from the beets and turnips, rinse the greens to remove any grit. Tear the leaves away from the stem and set aside, chop the stems into small pieces.
Toss the beets, turnips, and chopped stems in a bowl with the olive oil to coat, add the contents of the bowl, including all of the residual olive oil, to a large skillet over medium low heat. Sauté until all are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20-30 minutes.
Add the radishes, garlic and peas and stir, sauté another 5 minutes,
Turn up the heat to medium high and add the wine, sauté another 4-5 minutes until the wine has cooked off, then place the beet and turnip greens on top of the vegetables, cover the skillet and turn off the heat. The greens will be nicely wilted in about 5 minutes. Remove the cover, stir the mixture together and serve.
Makes 4-6 servings
Standing Rib Roast
Rick Kingsbury’s free-range beef is so tender that it really doesn’t need much preparation to make his outstanding rib roast recipe. A simple garlic and spice paste rubbed onto the roast is all that’s needed. Most meat at Market is sold frozen because the farmers are small-scale operations. Move the beef from the freezer to the refrigerator several days before cooking to ensure it’s fully defrosted.
1 standing rib roast 4-6 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped finely
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon fresh ground pepper
Remove the rib roast from the refrigerator and place on a roasting rack set in a baking pan. Sit at room temperature for one hour.
In a small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly, then use the back of a spoon to crush the garlic and herbs into a paste. Rub the mixture evenly all over the rib roast.
Preheat the oven to 325°F with the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Roast the beef for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on the size of the roast, checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to read 130°F for medium rare, which Rick recommends for this cut of meat, or until your desired doneness (the general rule of the thumb is to cook the roast 18-20 minutes per pound for medium rare, or 25-27 minutes for well done).
Remove the rib roast from the oven and loosely place aluminum foil on top of it, letting the roast rest for about 15 minutes before moving it to a cutting board and carving to serve.
Makes 8-10 servings
Don Bustos is just one famer who has amazing blackberries.
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
7 ounces butter, chilled and chopped
2 egg yolks, plus one egg yolk for glazing
4 cups fresh blackberries
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
Prepare the pie dough by putting the flour in a mixer or food processor, add the butter and mix until breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolks and mix until the mixture comes together into a dough-like consistency. You may need to add 1-2 tablespoons of cold water to help it come together. Divide the dough in half and form each into a disk. Wrap disk of pie dough in a plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Mix together the blackberries with the sugar and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the chilled pie dough from the wrap and working with one disk at a time roll the pastry on a hard surface lightly sprinkled with flour, line a 9-inch pie pan with the first disk of dough. Trim of excess dough around the sides, poke some holes in the bottom of the pastry with a fork.
Spoon the berry mixture evenly into the lined pie pan. Roll out the other disk of dough, using the same technique, and drape over the top of the pie, trim off the excess dough around the sides. Using a fork, press the pie seams together to create a seal, trim neatly, and make 4 small slits in the pie top.
Brush the top of the piecrust with the last egg yolk, sprinkle with more sugar, if desired.
Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling 35 to 45 minutes; remove from oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Can be served hot, warm or room temperature.
Makes 1 pie — 8 servings
by Mia Rose Poris