This time of year the markets are brimming with fresh produce and there is no better place to pick up sweet, juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil and tender stone fruits than at the farmers market.
Before you go to the farmers market, read these tips on when to go, how to make your picks and how to get the most from your visit.
1. Go with an open schedule
Markets in the summer can be quite crowded. Unlike when I shop at the grocery store, I go knowing that shopping at the market is also about the experience. I linger in front of the older couple playing classical music -- he on the bass, she the violin. At the doughnut shop, I wait patiently in the long line knowing my reward of warm, sweet, nutmeg-laced mini doughnuts is well worth it.
If I go in feeling rushed, there's so much that I’ll miss out on. But if you are in a hurry, go early. More on that later.
2. Bring cash
Most stands only accept cash. Seek out the local ATM before you make your way into the market. Here’s my tip: always bring more than you think you need. Especially in the summer when the produce is at its peak. It's always hard to turn down those blushed apricots even though I have no immediate plans for them. Suddenly, as I am stopped by their scent while walking by, there are plans for pie.
3. Get to know the farmers
Take time to talk to the farmers and those working the stands. These folks are in the dirt and can tell what is the best they are offering that day. Part of the benefit of shopping at a farmers market is that you are buying from people who are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what they are selling. Glean from them and ask them about their produce. They will be happy to tell you about it.
4. Have a plan but only sort of
I go in with a few recipe ideas for the week. This week, I knew that I wanted red onions, dill and peppers. I walked away with red onions, peppers, apricots, peppery greens and sweet cherry tomatoes. It’s often the produce itself that sells me and if I go in with a too solid of a plan, I’ll often miss the best stuff that day.
Know what’s in season in your area and plan for that.
5. Bring the whole family
Bringing the kids to the crowded market does not make for quick shopping, but I love to do it anyway because they get a chance to see where our food comes from. Well, I guess it’s one step removed from where our food actually comes from, but they too benefit from meeting the farmers and hearing their passion with the food they grow.
My youngest daughter, Ivy, loves to count how many dogs roam through the street. The boys (and us too) love the doughnuts and helping to choose the perfect tomatoes.
Sometimes the kids get tired and daunted by crowds, but I let them each choose something to buy -- a pint of raspberries, half a pound of cherries, the season’s first apples, and that perks them up and makes the next week’s visit one that they start to anticipate.
6. Taste taste taste
Ask for a taste. It’s the easiest way to choose what you want and it’s a great way to learn about the new pluot variety or the best apples for pie. The people working the stands anticipate this, and can tell you too are passionate about the food when you ask for a taste. But do ask first before ripping into a peach!
7. Arrive early
When I worked at a well known restaurant in Los Angeles, I would head out of my apartment just as the sun was waking up, to meet my chef at the farmers market. By being there early and having established relationships with the farmers, she was able to get first pick of the best produce. The incredible desserts we served at the restaurant were so flavorful in part because of the fruits we gathered from the market -- early.
You’ll miss some of the crowds and be able to get in and get out, quickly, with some of the best they have to offer that day.