Market Memories: Dorothy Calimeris

May 17, 2013

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market supporter Dorothy Calimeris shares her family history and memories of the market.

My grandfather, Anthony Calimeris used to work the food concessions on the ferry boats leaving out of Ferry Plaza. This was in the late 1920s or early 1930s. I have a picture of him and a coworker donning their perky caps and aprons at their stations ready to sell. I think hot dogs were 15 cents then. When my father was a little boy sometimes he’d accompany my grandfather to Ferry Plaza, and he said that all the men that were working down there would give him cookies and candy because he was a cute, precocious little boy with bright blue eyes. In those days, Dad said you’d get fresh caught calamari for free because no one but the Greeks and Italians ate it.

My second story is my mother’s father had a farm in Manteca, California, and when strawberries were in season two of my uncles would drive from the Valley at the crack of dawn to Alemany Farmers Market in San Francisco. One of my uncles was very charismatic and good-looking, and the other uncle was cute and shy. They would buy two spaces at either end of the market and set up two selling locations. My uncle, Lefty (Dimotakis), would use his charm to sell all of his strawberries, which he would do quickly and then he’d go over to my Uncle George’s table and help him sell off the rest of his, then they’d head home. This was probably during the 1940s. I often wonder how much money they could have possibly made to make it worth their trip to San Francisco in probably some horrible old, beat up truck. Since that was before 580 was built, it probably took them four hours just to get to San Francisco.

I thought these stories were nice pieces of lore and should be shared. Today, I love the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. For me, it is Shangri-La! I have been in the food business my whole life (my website), and I anxiously awaited the opening of Ferry Plaza market. It’s so lovely, bustling, and exciting, filled with the best of the best. My routine is to go and get my risotto tart from Frog Hollow first (MUST be sure to have that before they run out). Then my other must-haves include mushrooms from Far West Fungi, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, the roasted chipotle powder from Happy Quail Farms, strawberry jam from Swanton Berry Farm, beans from Rancho Gordo, other treats from the vendors inside the building—and how can I forget tasting Saint Benoît yogurt for the first time?

I let the market dictate my other purchases and create menus over and over in my head, which will most likely end up completely different when I finally make dinner. Once I’m done shopping, I spend the rest of my time sitting on the long piece of wood that runs along the outside of the market, eating my salads, and plotting the best time to get in line at Blue Bottle for an iced coffee.

It’s one of my favorite places to take friends and family to teach them about food, to get them excited about local farming and vendors and to see the surprise on their face as they taste something new and delicious for the first time. It truly is a grand market, in the tradition of the grand markets of the past, before supermarkets were invented. I love how it has helped bring back a resurgence in Farmers Markets all over the Bay Area.