If you’re trying to incorporate more healthful, fresh food into your diet, the farmer’s market is the place to start. It’s full of beautiful, locally grown food, helpful farmers, and happy people shopping for dinner. That said, if you’re new to the market, it can be overwhelming. To save time and get the most out of my visit, I employ the following techniques.
Arrive early. The market is my favorite place in the city, but I don’t go on a Saturday afternoon, or a weekday during lunch, because it’s too crowded. If navigating the market were a video game, I would get points for avoiding dogs on leashes, strollers and tourists with cameras, because they all slow me down in reaching my goal, which is to get to the food. The best way to avoid them is to go when they won’t be there.
Survey the scene. Before you make a purchase, walk through the market and see what’s there. Maybe the first stand that you come to has all of the ingredients on your shopping list. But don’t buy just yet. Maybe someone else’s strawberries are sweeter, or someone else’s mushrooms are fresher. Take a thorough inventory, then go back through and buy.
Have an idea for a meal in mind, but be flexible. For example, maybe there is a fishmonger on Wednesdays who sells fabulous fresh cod, with which you’d like to serve a couple of vegetables. Now maybe you get to your fish lady and she’s out of cod, but she’s got beautiful soft-shell crabs. This may mean reconfiguring your meal—perhaps a green salad would go with those crabs instead of the side veg—but the most important thing is that you get the best ingredients available that day.
Ask questions. There are many new and intriguing ingredients at the market. If you don’t know what to do with celery roots, Jerusalem artichokes, or Chanterelle mushrooms, ask the farmer who is selling them. He or she is happy to advise you. There’s no need to fear what the answer will be, as nine times out of ten, the recommended method for preparing any food at the market is, “Sautée it with butter and garlic.”
There’s no question that the food at the farmer’s market can cost more than what you’ll find at the supermarket. To find bargains, cruise the market at closing time. Unlike at the supermarket, unsold food here is not thrown out at the end of the day. That’s because there is always some smart person—whether a restaurant chef or home cook—who knows that this food can be put to good use. Overripe produce can be had cheaply, just ask. If you see perishing peaches or tired tomatoes, maybe today’s the day to make a big batch of peach jam or tomato sauce!