From SELF Magazine: Farmers Market Guide

By Kelly Harold

Jul 8, 2010 10:50am

There’s no easier season than summer to load up on healthy, fresh fruits and veggies. Find your way to your farmers market for just-picked local options bursting with nutrients – and flavor. Use SELF Magazine’s step-by-step guide to farmstand success.

  • Get fresh: Produce at its peak smells as good as it tastes. Put your nose as close to the stem end as possible and inhale deeply.
  • Time your trip: Just as at a sample sale, you'll get the most variety in the early morning. (Go to LocalHarvest.org to find out when to hit the stalls.) Frugal shoppers should peruse later in the day, when farmers often offer rock-bottom prices to avoid lugging home leftovers.
  • Grab bags: Bring several sturdy-handled totes and distribute your purchases evenly. Rather than stashing fragile items in plastic produce bags, use cotton string sacks. Try brightly colored Fiesta Totes from EcoBags.com and carry cucumbers in style.
  • Look first: Make one complete pass around the market without buying anything. You'll be able to scope out the best deals and plan a meal that includes several of your selections before you open your wallet.
  • Chat up the farmers: Ask vendors about their growing processes—you may be surprised to learn you're getting earth-savvy produce at a bargain. Some farmers may use organic practices but haven't gone through the costly certification process, so they don't raise prices.
  • Ask for a taste: Want a sneak preview of your choices? Request a sample. Most vendors are happy to prove how good their offerings really are.
  • Touch and go: Feel the fruit. It should yield to gentle pressure without being mushy. And inspect for uniformity of texture; random soft spots indicate it has started to spoil.
  • Take your lumps: Certain imperfections are actually desirable. Ugly, bulbous tomatoes tend to be juiciest, while the brown lines that run down the sides of hot peppers and apples can signal superior flavor.
  • Wait to wash: Avoid wasting your precious purchases by rinsing them only immediately before you prep and serve them—moisture left on the surface of straight-from-the-farm eats promotes rot.
  • Make it last: Store stone fruit (such as peaches and plums) and tomatoes at room temperature until they are very ripe and juicy; only the pitted fruit can then go in the fridge. Corn is best cooked the day it's purchased, but if not, chill (unshucked) for up to a day. Store melon in the crisper drawer and rinse the rind before cutting. Place leafy herbs such as basil, parsley and cilantro stem-down in water (like flowers in a vase), cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate.
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