Who can resist the resist the lure of farmers’ markets? Definitely not me.It always feels like a fiesta. Shoppers look happy and alert, and healthful, colorful and naturally gluten-free abundance is heaped up on every stall.
It’s not only a delight to experience — both visually and later on your plate — but buying this produce also supports local family farms. These vendors really care about what they’re growing or raising, and they put sustainable agriculture into practice.
Of course, shoppers will find a lot more than impeccably fresh produce to inspire them. Vendors might offer anything from genuine farm eggs, handmade cheeses, jams, olive oil, wild mushrooms and honey to locally raised lamb and even, maybe, a gluten-free bakery stand.
There’s usually live music and a busy coffee stand, not to mention arts and crafts and fabulous fresh flowers.
Tips for shopping
To get the most out of your visit, a little advance planning helps.
Choose your optimal time. For the best selection and the fewest fellow shoppers, go early. If you want bargains, arrive an hour or so before closing time. Many farmers would just as soon not take perishable goods home again and will often make deals.
Produce vendors sometimes don’t accept credit cards, so it’s best to bring some cash, preferably in small bills (Consider using a traveler’s wallet you hang round your neck as you’ll need both hands free for gathering and bagging your selections). Be sure to tote a few cloth shopping bags and put a cooler in the car if you’re not going straight home.
Take a tour around all the stalls first, decide what you need (more or less) and plan to buy the heavier items like root veggies or a whole flat of fragrant strawberries last.
Be adventurous and buy at least two unfamiliar vegetables, and don’t hesitate to ask how to cook them. You’ll find that vendors are happy to share information. After all, they’re proud of what they’re selling, and they’d like you to come back as a steady customer.
As yet another advantage, everything you buy not only has incredible flavor and texture — even the carrots taste fantastic — but many items will stay perky for far longer than expected. After all, they were just picked instead of being kept in cold storage for days or even weeks like most supermarket produce.
Remember to tell your friends about your exciting new finds or share them on social media. Farmers’ markets — meaning all those dedicated local farmers, bakers, flower growers, cheese makers and their families — can’t survive without our support.
No matter what else I may buy, in early summer I nearly always come home with a glossy purple eggplant or two, zucchini, scarlet bell peppers, tomatoes, fresh young carrots, celery root, assorted fresh herbs (so different from the boxed supermarket variety) and fragrant berries.
The eggplant takes center stage in a roasted ratatouille casserole. I confess to being inspired by the endearing rodent chef in Disney’s Ratatouille, who created something like this for Anton Ego, the most feared restaurant critic in all Paris.
Sweet berries are always wonderful on their own, but they’re even better with a slice of tender, gluten-free lemon Bundt cake, so I’ve included a recipe for this, too.
Pre-roasting traditional ratatouille veggies gives rich flavor to this casserole, which can double as a main course. Click here for the recipe.
This tender cake makes the perfect foil for aromatic, fresh strawberries. Click here for the recipe.
Actually the knobby root of the celery plant, celeriac is a pale tan on the outside and white within. It has a firm texture somewhat like a big radish and a lovely aniseed-like flower. In France, it’s hugely popular as an appetizer when grated and mixed with mustard mayonnaise. Click here for the recipe.
If fresh stone fruit is not in season, cover ready-to-eat dried apricots with boiling water and let stand for 20 minutes, then drain and chop. Click here for the recipe.
The secret to this tantalizing “Asian slaw” is draining the grated zucchini for a crisper texture. Mini bell peppers are best for this dish; the full-sized ones are too thick. Click here for the recipe.