How to Navigate Your Farmer’s Market Like a Chef
Let the season be your guide to creative, delicious weeknight meals
Grocery shopping isn’t exactly a picnic. The supermarket can often leave you feeling uninspired, squeezing your way through a pile of unripe avocados and reading labels under the glare of fluorescent lights. Fortunately, there’s another option. While it may seem a little less convenient to make the trip to your nearest farmer’s market, it can be a wellspring of ideas, not to mention the best source for the freshest and tastiest seasonal produce from your area. Well worth the trek!
Here are 10 insider tips coverings the full process—before, during, and after—that will have you navigating your farmer’s market like a pro. No prerequisites needed!
It’s in the bag – Bring your own reusable bags to the market. A backpack is another good idea for any fragile items and carrying a water bottle—grocery shopping is thirsty work! You can also save any clean plastic produce bags from the supermarket and take them with you. Most market stands will have bags, but this is a perfect opportunity to reduce plastic waste.
Cash is king – In the era of Square, more farmers accept cards, but don’t count on it. Bring a decent amount of cash, including smaller bills and quarters if possible. It helps some shoppers to set a budget by bringing a set amount of money, say $30. But others prefer to bring more than they need in case they see something really special that they can’t leave without.
Inventory – Before you jet out the door, take stock of what you already have. Go through the fridge and consolidate the crisper drawers, discarding any bad produce (it happens) and noting the things you should use sooner rather than later. Also look at the pantry and think about any dishes you’d like to make during the coming week. Maybe you have a can of chickpeas and some coconut milk and think you’d like to make a curry. Then you know to keep an eye out at the market for ingredients that would go well in a curry, like cauliflower, zucchini, or eggplant.
You’re there—now what?
Strategize – Especially if you don’t get to the farmer’s market often, take a quick walk around before you buy anything. There may be four vendors selling strawberries, but one may have riper, tastier berries than the rest. Or you might find a good deal, like 2 bunches of kale for $3, at one stand, so a quick reconnaissance trip will make sure you don’t just end up buying the first bunch of kale you see.
Taste – Most vendors selling fruit offer samples, but even if they don’t, it never hurts to ask. The same goes for other produce–if there’s something you’re interested in but want to try first, just ask! Maybe you want to know how spicy the arugula is or run into a vegetable you’ve never had before. Most vendors will be happy to oblige if you ask politely.
Load up – Fill your market bag with produce you know your family already loves, maybe throwing in a couple new-to-you items or things you’d like to experiment with. Be strategic: If you know you like to have a salad with dinner on most nights, plan on buying a couple heads of lettuce and some vegetables to throw in the salad bowl, like radishes or cucumber. Or be creative: Sometimes it’s nice to just wing it based on what looks best and figure out your game plan later.
Seal the deal
You just bought a bunch of beautiful produce, so now you can cram it all in the crisper and walk away, right? Not so fast! To preserve the life of your vegetables and fruits, give them a little love before you stick them in the fridge.
Shake it off – Make sure any leafy greens are fairly dry. Excess water can lead to spoilage, so shake off greens or herbs that seem wet, and put them in a bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture.
Berry bath – Preserve fragile, ripe berries with this simple trick: Mix 3 cups cool water and 1 cup white vinegar. Dunk the berries in the water and swish them around gently, then fish the berries out and drain them well on clean kitchen towels or paper towels. Store in a single layer in a container.
Get ahead – If you have a little more time on your hands after your market visit, you may even want to go ahead and prep some of your produce right away to save time during the week. If you know you want to turn that bunch of kale into a salad, go ahead and shred it now. If you have a vegetable soup in mind for Monday night, chop up those carrots and celery to stow in a container. A little extra time spent on the weekend means less time in the kitchen on busy weeknights.
Status: Market Maven
Armed with these simple tips and tricks for success, consider yourself prepared to take on all the market has to offer. In short order, you’ll be a total pro at cooking seasonally, and your taste buds and tummy will thank you.