I’m a farmers market junkie. Maybe because I love fresh food, maybe I’m such a terrible gardener I’m in awe of those who can grow food consistently, maybe I just like the chaos and the haggling. Maybe all the above. I love markets so much I teach several classes every year that take field trips to local farmers markets and cook with what we find there, both for adults and kids. THAT is really fun. I even occasionally do cooking demos at a farmers market, I did one of those at the beginning of August, it was a blast!! My son however, who had been brought to the market that day was very confused about why I was in front of a bunch of people cutting fruit…
In any case the markets are really in full swing now, they are brimming with produce, meat, cheese, cinnamon rolls, breads, soap you name it, it’s there and I just LOVE it when it gets like this! However I will say that the markets are starting to go year round, I know of two winter markets near me, there are probably even more!
This year has been especially fun to take the baby with us. He loves to smell the flowers and the produce, to babble at all the farmers, and of course the music makes him happy. It’s a great way to load the fridge with the best of the best on the cheap, and bonus, it’s a fun outing too. I do have a few market and produce tips that are helpful to keep in mind as you head out there, I thought I’d share some major ones below. Feel free to share yours as well in the comments I’d love to hear them!
Get the Most from the Farmers Market
1. Find out what’s in season. Most farmers markets list this on their websites, or on a big sign at the market. This will help you plan your attack!
2. Bring reusable shopping bags. While most vendors will have plastic bags for you to use, it’s much easier to carry a reusable shopping bag — plus you look cooler, if you’re into that.
3. Walk through the entire market first, checking out every stand and all the offerings before making a purchase. Compare prices, selection, and quality, and then go back through and get what you need/want, you’ll get better items at better deals
4. Have conversations with the farmers and vendors. If you don’t know what something is, just ask. Often farmers are able to not only let you know what a particular item is but give you advice on how to prepare and serve it too.
5. Try one new thing each time you go to your farmers market. You never know what you might find. Don’t forget the non produce items, meat, bread, cheese, soap, cinnamon rolls. It’s all there!
6. Have fun! Many markets provide music or cooking demos for entertainment.
What to Look For When Picking Produce
1. Bright color – After you’ve checked for bruises, blemishes and pests (harder to see on vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage, so double-check), look for fruits and vegetables with the brightest, most inviting colors. The tastiest, vine-ripened produce should be vibrant, with its skin entirely saturated with color(except for nectarines, where a dull exterior means the fruit will be sweeter… go figure!) For fruits like cherries look for stems that are green instead of brown, since these fruits will be fresher.
2. Heavy weight – Generally you want to pick produce that is the heaviest relative to the rest of your options. Light weight produce is more likely to be dry and mealy, but heavier produce will be juicy and crisp. The best way to tell is to pick up two similarly sized fruits, one with each hand. After you’ve tried a few it will be obvious that certain fruits are much heavier than the rest, and those are your best bets.
3. Firm, but not hard – Because the best produce is moist and juicy, it should also be perfectly plump. This means that it will be firm to the touch—think crisp and succulent—but not hard, squishy or limp. While the perfect amount of firmness will vary for each type of produce, comparing within the batch can be very informative. For soft fruits, gently picking a piece up should tell you if it’s too soft or hard. For vegetables with stalks like carrots and broccoli, be sure the ends don’t give too much when you try to bend them (but don’t try too hard or they might snap). While this tip works as a general rule, keep in mind that it doesn’t apply to everything.
4. Fragrant aroma – Probably the most telling test of the quality of your fruit is how it smells. Unripe fruits smell like nothing. But ripe produce almost always smells faintly (and often overwhelmingly) of how it is supposed to taste. Hold the part of the fruit that was attached to the stem close to your nose and breathe deeply. Compare a few of your options. The strongest smelling fruit will be the most ripe and ready to eat immediately
5. When in doubt, Ask! – The farmers are a wealth of wonderful information, they spend their days and nights nursing these vegetables and fruits to perfection and they know better than anyone how to pick the best…when in doubt I leave it to the experts!!!