When the weather turns warmer and things start growing green, I eagerly begin to anticipate farmer’s market season. Zucchinis, tomatoes, and berries are my favorites, and I love cooking with all of the herbs. Whether you’re a market veteran or someone who’s just curious about healthy seasonal eating, I’ll walk you through the basics of staying farmer’s market fresh.
Why Shop the Farmer’s Market?
Here in the US, we’ve gotten used to having any vegetable or fruit we want any time of the year — whether it’s local or in season or not — thanks to giant production facilities and cross-country shipping. The downside to this is that most of our produce isn’t fresh when it arrives, which means it’s already lost a good deal of flavor and nutrients by the time it reaches our plates.
Local farmers, on the other hand, usually pick their goods right before selling. The farmer I like to buy from picks her vegetables early in the morning, loads them in her truck, and drives them straight to market. By shopping at the farmer’s market, you’re getting fresh, flavorful produce still full of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. You’re also supporting your local economy, and that feels good, too.
Know Your Growing Seasons
Certain items only grow certain times of the year. For instance, lettuces are a spring and fall offering, because they need a bit of chill in the air, while strawberries are a warm weather fruit. Tomatoes grow in mid to late summer, while squashes are mostly a fall find.
The exception is if your farmer has a hot house. Then you might find fresh veggies of all sorts, all year.
Join a CSA
Many farmers take part in Community Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs. This allows you to buy a “share” of a farmer’s crops ahead of time and ensures that you will receive fresh produce throughout the growing season. Each farmer’s selection is different, with some programs running just through the summer and others running year-round.
To find a CSA near you, visit your market and talk to the farmers there. Or, type in your zip code at LocalHarvest.org to get a list of CSAs in your area.
Select and Cook With What’s Fresh
Be sure to choose items that are clean and have good color and texture. Ask the farmer how they grow their food, and find out if they use pesticides. A farm doesn’t need to be certified organic to be good; produce grown with natural, organic methods is just fine.
If you aren’t sure what’s good, talk to the farmer! Ask them what they recommend and how they like to prepare it. Good farmers don’t just grow food — they cook and eat it, too.
Keep an eye out for items that are specialties of or unique to your region. For instance, apples in Washington, olives in California, and wine in Virginia.
When selecting your ingredients, get creative! Tomatoes and fruits such as strawberries and blueberries are perfect for making salsa or bruschetta. Kale can be turned into delicious, healthful chips, and spinach is wonderful in soups, salads, and chicken saag. And, of course, herbs or fresh goat cheese are always welcome additions to a recipe! Stretch a meal by adding more veggies, or use up a variety of produce by whipping up a curry.
Below are a few more ideas to get you cooking with all of your yummy farmer’s market finds.
Courtesy of Phoebe Canakis of Phoebe’s Pure Food
- 1 french baguette, sliced
- 1 cup strawberries, hulled and diced
- 1/4 cup minced basil
- 4 ounces chèvre
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- freshly ground pepper
Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl and allow to macerate (soak) for about 30 minutes. Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the top of each baguette and top with a spoonful of the strawberry blend. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic mixture and top with basil and freshly cracked pepper.
Fish and Veggie Kabobs
Courtesy of Phoebe Canakis of Phoebe’s Pure Food
- several 4″ skewers
- 2 salmon steaks, cubed in 2″ pieces
- 1 red or yellow pepper, cubed in 1″ pieces
- 1 medium onion, cubed
- 6 cremini mushrooms, halved
- 1 zucchini, sliced into 1/2″ disks
- marinade (see recipe below)
- 2 inches fresh ginger root, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or diced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- red pepper flakes (optional)
Mix marinade and fish in a Ziploc bag. Let the salmon macerate for about 2 hours, taking it out from time to time and “mushing” it so the marinade soaks in. Soak the kabob skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before loading up; this will help prevent burning on the grill. Spray the grill grates to prevent the salmon from sticking. Assemble veggies and fish onto kabob skewers and grill for about 4 minutes on each side. Make sure not to overcook! You can reserve the marinade and spoon over the salmon as it cooks. To prevent food poisoning, be sure not to put the “raw” marinade over cooked and ready to serve kabobs.
Photo Credits: Johannes Jansson/norden.org, Joe Mabel, Hrushi3030, Phoebe Canakis