Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finding quality and savings at the farmers' market...

Today I went to the local farmers' market to get a few things to make soup with and I was struck with how much of a good thing there was in out area, we have an abundance of local growers with the freshest produce available every Saturday morning.  This got me to thinking, there are a few things about farmers markets that folks tend to take for granted.  First is that everything is fresh picked that day.  In fact, some things are picked through out the week and held for market, so just like the grocery store its important to check for freshness, also some growers don't care if the birds have pecked at their peppers or the slugs have slimmed the squash, so be sure to check for the overall quality as well.  When you are looking for the freshness of an items there are simple things to look for, beets, carrots, celery root and radishes should be sold with the top on, then you will know how fresh they are, if the greens are wilted they were not picked that day.  I found a really nice fruit and vegetable buying guide from the University of Tennessee that you can download and print out for future reference.  There is also a great app available at iTunes for $2.99 called Harvest, you can also watch the demo movie and get more information about the application at the developers site, I really like this app because it also gives you information on the pesticide levels in your produce.

The other thing a lot of folks assume is that buying at the farmers' market means its organic, as a matter of fact this is not the case at all.  Each state has requirements to be certified organic and in most cases if the vendor stall doesn't have the certification certificate then they are not organic. 

I am usually overwhelmed but the amount of great stuff and tend to over buy if I don't go with a plan, so here are some tips to help you save money when you go,  first and foremost, treat it just like going to the grocery store, make a list of the things you need.  Today I made home made Gazpacho so I knew I needed tomatoes, garlic, corn, onion, cucumber and leek, once I had those items then I could use the remaining cash I had for other goodies.  That brings me to the second thing, have a budget.  Most vendors are not equipped to take checks or credit cards so bring a set amount of cash and when its gone its time to go home.  Once you get to the market check out all the vendor stalls before you buy, remember, not all vendors have the same variety of goods or the same quality.  The final cardinal rule is to get there early, our market opens at 7:00am and if you get there at 8:00am things are pretty well picked over, also be prepared for a crowd, folks that frequent the farmers' markets know the early risers get the best stuff.  If you aren't sure if you have a local farmers market near you the USDA has a web page that allows you to do a search.

Once you get your produce home be sure to store it in the right areas, corn (wrapped in a wet paper bag placed inside a plastic bag), and peas are best in the front area of the fridge.  Artichokes, asparagus (after trimming the ends and placing upright in shallow cool water, then covering with plastic), beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, cucumbers, eggplant, fresh herbs, green beans, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce (after washing and drying, rolling loosely in a clean kitchen towel inside an unzipped zip-lock bag), mushrooms, peppers, radishes, scallions, summer squash, turnips and zucchini are best in the crisper drawer.  Tomatoes are best placed upside down on the counter or on a plate.  Garlic, onions, potatoes, shallots, sweet potatoes and winter squash are best in the pantry, closet or basement (where it's both dark and cool).

Do you have any wonderful summer recipes using your garden's harvest or good stuff form the farmers market?  I would love to hear about them.

Have a wonderful weekend.


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