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Jul 19, 2010 04:58 PM

Farmer's market essentials

What do you always look for at the market and what do you always buy. I bought some corn and some plums. They were meh. I did get some butter and cheese though. YUM. I never really shopped at them before so I want to know what I am missing. What are must buys?

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  1. For me, the beauty of the farmer's market is that there aren't really any essentials (as in I 'always get fill-in-the-blank'), but you managed to ferret out some my prime things on your first trip: fresh dairy products. God, fresh butter and cheese. I just got tears in my eyes, lilmomma.

    What I look for at the market are things that are just coming into their prime in my area, and I try to make note of this before I go to the market. I lokk for things that I not only can't grow myself but that have a constricted enough niche market as to be hard to find in the regular markets (heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms, etc). I also look for plants: my gorgeous basil cost five dollars, and I received excellent care instructions *unasked* for.

    It really is worthwhile to make of note of what you are getting from which farm, and getting to know those vendors. It can all pass by in such a crowded blur that you might not remember how to get another batch of whatever wowed you. It's a wonderful opportunity to make a connection with the growers and producers in your area, and if you become a familiar face, then (sometimes) the vendors are willing to work with you in your selection, if you ask for help. Make a note of what the vendors themselves seem especially passionate about, once you get them talking: you'll likely want to try that item.

    Have fun.

    1. Depends very much on which market I am shopping. One local market has a seafood vendor that I have been VERY pleased with every time. I have gotten some really good soft shell crab, snapper, and huge shrimp. At another farmer's market their tomatoes and local goat cheese are what I head down there for. In fact, perhaps I should do that this weekend. Have fun!

      1. Frankly, I've pretty much stopped going to farmers' markets. Once upon a time they were the place to find the best, freshest produce at competitive prices. But then they became fashionable. Now the quality is down, the prices are up, and the crowds are intolerable.

        Still and all, the best thing about the markets is being able to sample the produce (or cheese, or oysters, or butter, or olive oil) before you pull the trigger. There's no such thing as a "must buy." It's what taste good at the moment.

        1 Reply
        1. re: alanbarnes

          Your first paragraph hits the nail on the head alan. In the summer where I live the produce isn't ready until about now, I go down about once and fight the crowds of "cool people" and get 5lbs of pickling cukes without wax on them and there is a nice Laotian lady that makes these unbelievable jumbo eggrolls, that does it for me. They've turned into too much of a circus.

        2. I've shopped at the same Farmers' Market for several years. It is a relatively small market with fewer than 50 vendors. I cannot think of a real strategy that I use except to make best use of my mileage because this is an almost 100 mile round trip for me. I talk to each grower/producer who has products that interest me. If they seem knowledgable and interested in imparting information, I'm apt to give them a try. In the last two years, the market has doubled in size so I do have more choice.

          I admit a bias toward small farmers and will buy from them over The Bigger Guys when each has a similar product, i.e. heirloom tomatoes. I always buy eggs from the same "Egg Lady". Since I live in the desert, hens don't produce as many eggs in the summer heat, so I will augment my egg buying when she doesn't have enough for our needs. By doing this, I have a larger network of dedicated people whom I trust.

          There's a seasonal salmon vendor whose product is wonderful. I know that he's gone in the summer months, fishing in Alaska, so I stock up before he leaves. The honey vendor is year-round so I have no such problem with their local orange blossom honey.

          I know what produce I use regularly, it may vary from your week-in, week-out list, and I always buy my staples if/when they're available. Yes, I plug in the holes from the grocery store if no one has potatoes or whatever else I deem "necessary".

          I go early and walk the entire market before making my purchases. I believe it is bad manners to question the vendors while they're setting up, so I just look.

          Making contact with the individual seller has been gratifying. Several farmers have grown special seeds I have brought to them and the results have been mixed - some stunning successes and a couple of "meh" results.

          I like knowing where my chicken/goat cheese/beef/eggs/bread/vegetables/fruit comes from and the PITA factor of the FM is worth it to me. Re-reading what I have just written tells me that I have not answered your question completely. You asked "what do you always look for at the market". My answer must be "The producer". I ask questions. When they know you're honestly interested, not just looking for a free snack, they have been incredibly accomodating with both samples and advice.
          Yes, I pay more for these products than I would for their counterparts at the big grocery stores AND it is worth it for me.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sherri

            Agree with everything Sherri said! I shop at a local farmer's market every Saturday, year round. I am lucky enough to have access to several farmer's market around me, all year round. I try to cook with only the produce I find at the markets and feel guilty when I pick up some from a grocery store and find on the label that it came from far away parts of the world. What I look for in the market changes as the seasons change. Having had this routine for several years, I now know which fruits or vegetables are expected soon. Other than that, I have my favorite vendors for one reason or another and price is only one of the deciding factors. I love picking up tips, recipes from overhearing or talking to other customers or the vendors themselves. I am not shy to tell the vendor if something did not turn out, nor to air my hearty approval when something was really good. I realize that I am very lucky to have this kind of access (both geographically and financially) to fabulous, local and in many cases sustainably grown produce. However, I do cut down on wasteful spending elsewhere so as to be able to procure high quality, local and seasonal produce for my family. It also spurs me on to be creative in the kitchen when faced with unusual produce or missing ingredients.
            One thing that my Dad taught me about shopping in a green market is to survey the market first - looking out both for quality and price. Then decide what you want to buy from whom and go around the market a second time to do just that.

          2. Depends on the market. Here in San Diego, the cured meat guy (Knight Salumi) is pretty awesome. We also have a local harvester of sea urchin (uni). Simply amazing. Then, cheeses are good, and the local chocolatier (Eclipse) is amazing. Not to mention, southern California produce is often awesome. Heirloom tomatoes? Ridiculous.

            I could give you a *completely* different list of amazing foods from the farmer's markets when I lived in Baltimore. It really all depends on what's good at *your* market. Try everything that looks interesting. A good indication is the booths with long lines. Those are the ones that other folks have decided are good.