Find the Freshest Food at Local Farmers Markets

Anne Vassal tells readers how to find the freshest food at local farmers' markets, includes recipes for White Bean and Tomato Salad, Pesto Spread, Grilled Vegetables, Vegetable Medley and Microwave Peach Crisp.

| April/May 2000

How to find the best food at local farmers' markets. 

Getting the choicest meals from local vegetable stands at local farmers' markets.

Not everyone is born with a green thumb. Some of us can't keep a cactus alive in the family room, much less plant a vegetable garden. And even if you aren't horticulturally impaired, you may be short on time and energy. This is where your local farmers' markets can be the answer to your culinary prayers. Besides, it doesn't make sense to buy produce shipped from overseas when you can buy it only hours old from local farmers. And that's just one of the many reasons you should drag yourself out of bed early on Saturday mornings in pursuit of the best fruits and veggies . . . .

Fresher foods: Most of the fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets have been picked within the previous 24 hours, whereas supermarket produce can be weeks old. Those blueberries on special this week at our Chicago supermarket were shipped here from New Jersey, while the farmers' market berries are driven in daily from Michigan, two hours away. Last year I compared both and found the Michigan berries to be the hands-down winner, with their fresh, white "bloom" and firm skins. The supermarket berries had a shriveled look and didn't taste as sweet. (This is why I try to avoid jet-lagged produce.) Freshness is especially critical for vegetables such as corn that need to be cooked or at least refrigerated shortly after picking, before their natural sugars convert to starch. Freshness means better flavor without the loss of valuable nutrients.

Such a deal: While some farmers' market items (such as blueberries) will cost more in small quantities than you'd pay at the supermarket, other items are quite a steal. I can buy five sweet red peppers for $1 and freeze them for those winter months when they cost $5 per pound. Buying pecks or half-bushels of peaches, apples and other items for canning or freezing will save you a good deal of money. Prices vary, so tour the market before you buy.

Variety: Where else could you find ten varieties of peppers, five types of corn and at least two kinds of peaches? My last trip to market turned up purple peppers, pattypan squash and an astounding variety of herbs. Another nearby market carries an array of heirloom tomatoes. Farmers' markets also may carry plants, fresh-cut flowers, baked goods and unusual Wisconsin cheeses like basil Brie (yum!).

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