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A Handy Guide to Help You Shop Like a Pro at Your Local Farmers’ Market
Being prepared for market day is key to a successful shopping trip. Your neighborhood farmer’s market may only come around once a week, so you’ll want to make the most of it! If you’ve read my first blog post, you should know what’s in season. Now, I’m going to give you everything you’ll need to hit those markets like a pro.
A sturdy tote bag (or two, or three… you know what, just grab them all.)
I recommend investing in a sturdy cotton bag, preferably with long handles that you can throw over your shoulder. Stuff your largest bag with smaller ones you can use to wrangle roly-poly fruits and leggy leafy veg. I find the canvas bags hold up much better than most, take up very little room when not in use, and can be thrown right in the wash when needed.
Cash is still king at most markets. And, trust me, you’ll get bonus points if you bring small bills! Don’t bet on vendors accepting cards. Even when they offer mobile processing, it can be finicky and cash is always preferred.
If it’s not too much of a hassle, bring one just in case. Who knows? Maybe you’ll buy a chicken, or some farm fresh sausage. I do know you’ll be glad you had it.
A Cart (for the serious shopper)
If you mean business you’ll want to invest in a cart. A sleek little folding cart can easily be stowed in the car and save you a world of hassle at markets where parking is less than ideal. Now you won’t have to pass on that 1/2 bushel of perfectly ripe peaches.
Bonus Item: A Kitchen Towel
Throwing a towel in with your totes can come in handy. Use it to protect your delicate tomatoes from prickly cukes or roll up your herbs for the ride home.
Perhaps most important of all, let’s not forget our manners!
Remember that most local farms choose the vegetables they grow based on flavor and not appearance. So, what you see at the market may vary a bit from what you’ve come to expect at the grocer. Ugly tomatoes, strange squash, and imperfect peppers are all par for the course, and extremely tasty. Organic greens very commonly contain nibble holes and the occasional hitchhiking beetle. Don’t let a few bugs and a little dirt scare you away.
Remember, ask questions and keep an open mind. And don’t be afraid to offer feedback. If you’re in love with that beautifully crunchy kohlrabi, let the farmers know. They’ll probably plant even more next year.
Bringing It Home
Now let’s examine the haul! Sometimes my market bag is almost too pretty to eat, but something ugly lurks within…. food waste! We have all made the mistake of leaving greens out to wilt or turning a tomato to mush in the fridge. Here is where an ounce of prevention is worth a bowl of salad. Yep, that’s the saying.
Don’t wash it!
Well not just yet anyway. Introducing moisture generally leads to problems, so it’s best to wash immediately before use. The only exception to this rule would be if you spotted any of nature’s little hitchhikers. I’m looking at you, organic broccoli. If your vegetables have munchers in tow, they will, of course, continue to munch. Green cabbage worms are notorious munchers and hide exceedingly well in broccoli. I have had the unfortunate experience of biting down into “squish” instead of “crunch” a few too many times. Look it over and rinse well, just be sure to air dry or wrap in an absorbent towel for storage.
Wrap It Up
Greens and herbs keep best wrapped in a thin cotton towel. I’ll sometimes add a little moisture if perking up is needed. Look for the old-fashioned flour sack towels, they do the job well.
Tomatoes, stone fruit (except cherries), apples, and uncut melons will all lose flavor and texture in the fridge. Once these are cut though, you’ll have to eat up or give in because nothing is worse than fruit flies, nope.
Let Them Breathe
You’ve probably already heard about storing potatoes, onions, and garlic in a dark and dry environment. But, did you know they don’t play nice together? Onions and garlic release gasses that encourage sprouting, so unless you plan on planting those taters, keep them separated. Do make sure your dry storage has proper ventilation too, all these guys prefer to breathe so no airtight containers.
Follow these rules and your greens will make it to the table instead of the compost bin. If you do slip up, however, you still have options to save your market haul…
A Few “Life Hacks”– Farmers’ Market Edition
So, you followed all of my advice. You brought your fruits and veggies home. You’re a proud farmers’ market shopper. Still, somehow after a day or two, you sense things are going south. Don’t panic! You always have the option to can, freeze or pickle your way out of it. Canning takes a bit of practice for sure, but the other two methods are a cinch.
Simply save the brine from a jar of store-bought pickles and toss in those lackluster cukes and few sad carrots. In 24 hours, they will be “magic pickles”!
Salad greens wilting?
Throw them in soup, boom… soup greens. I promise you romaine is fantastic in soup!
Onions all sprouty?
Salvage what you can, chop them up and sautee them down until caramelized and delicious. Then, freeze them for a head start to any soup or sauce.
Tomatoes too ripe?
Cut them in half and place on a cookie tray with a drizzle of oil. Bake at 200 degrees until they lose most of their moisture. You now have sundried tomatoes! They will keep under oil in the refrigerator for weeks.
And For My Last Trick…
I have one last tip, and it’s my absolute favorite, and it involves the humble beet.
Yes, I’m talking about those odd little root vegetables with the plump, brilliant red bulbs and a head of thick, vibrant greens. This misunderstood root often gets overlooked, but give it a try and you’ll soon discover a true market gem.
Beets are one of the most versatile plants in my culinary repertoire. They are fantastic roasted, steamed, pickled, or thrown in soups and salads.
But the true value of the beet lies in the free gift with purchase — beet greens! These tasty tops are often discarded, but they have a flavor similar to the finest chard or spinach. Sautee them with garlic and pinch of chili flake for a quick and (almost) free dish! Many farmers chop them off table side so don’t be shy and ask for yours to remain intact, and maybe even ask for the last guy’s greens too!
Happy shopping! Hopefully, I’ll catch you at the market.
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