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10 of the Best Farmers Market Tips We Learned from Cookbooks

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Now that it’s the end of June, we’re finding ourselves at the sunny pole farthest from the dead-of-winter farmers market. It is prime market season and we’re giddy. Favas! Bristly-fuzzy peaches! Tomatoes! Real tomatoes!

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With so much produce to choose from, we’re turning to some of the people who know the market best for advice: Cookbook authors. We picked through our favorite tomes looking for tips. Here's what we found, with some action steps we gleaned from each:

Stone fruit

1. From An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: Invest at the farmers markets. “Buy a whole chicken at a farmers’ market if you can. They’re much more expensive—up to three times as expensive—as chickens raised in factories…[but] the two are completely different animals. Chickens that’ve led chicken-y lives develop strong, gelatinous bones, which contribute to the soup you get from them and to how good they are for you.”

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How to: Spend the extra money for quality ingredients that need to shine in your dishes, like chicken, vegetables, or bread—your food will taste better because of it.

Mint

2. From The New Greenmarket Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz: Use the farmers market as an opportunity to connect with farmers and with other people. As Langholtz writes, “participating in a human-scale food system adds richness to life.” 

How to: Ask farmers what is in season or what they're most excited about. Ask them, and your fellow market-goers, for ideas about what and how to cook it.

Eggs

3. From Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield: Leave your list at home. “I use seasonal variables as guidelines, rather than limitations, when I buy fresh produce,” writes Satterfield. “Show up with an open mind and some empty bags rather than a shopping list.”

How to: Try new things! If, for example, there aren't yet peas at your market, ask your farmer what you could use instead. Let yourself be inspired by (and open-minded about) what's available.

4. From An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: Let the season drive your diet. "If there isn’t a farmers’ market near you, looking for local lettuce still makes sense because if you can’t find any, it means it’s the season for another kind of salad,” writes Adler.

How to: Don't skip salad when lettuce is around: Let in-season, non-lettuce salads have their time in the sun. 

Plums

5. From The Kitchen Ecosystem by Eugenia Bone: When you find something good, preserve it. “I discovered that by putting up only a couple of jars I could not only do a preservation recipe from whatever I was cooking for dinner that night, but I could also do it at the same time I was hanging around cooking in the kitchen anyway… All it took was another burner on the stove.”

How to: You can do a little preserving whenever you have extras from the market. Not sure where to start? How about with tomato jam, pickled strawberry jam, or giardiniera

More: Eugenia Bone's book is a realistic take on the DIY lifestyle.

Tomato sandwich

6. From Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: When something is plentiful, delicious, and in season, cook it every way you can think of. In a section called “The humble eggplant,” the authors write, “Eggplants, depending on the variety, lend themselves to pickling, stuffing, cooking in sauce, frying, baking, roasting, charring, burning, puréeing, and even cooking in sugar and spice.”

How to: We're seeing a heck of a lot of asparagus at the farmers market right now. Here are seven different ways to make it.

Green beans

7. From Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4: Farm Markets & Gardens by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer: On the other hand, prepare and enjoy beautiful, fresh things simply. “In the summertime the farm markets, roadside stands and our gardens are full of vegetables ready for picking and eating. We like to keep our preparations simple—why muck up all those fresh flavors?” (page 68).

How to: It's hard to improve on a perfectly ripe piece of produce. Bite into a drippy peach on your way from the market, or make an excellent-yet-humble tomato sandwich.

8. From An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: Buy in bulk to make in bulk.

How to: Ask farmers for cases of "seconds"—the extra-ripe, maybe slightly bruised produce. They're perfect for things like jam and sauce.

Cucumbers

9. From Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield: Waste not! “The term ‘nose to tail’ was coined… to describe this idea of using every part of an animal. Now I am proposing that we look at all food this way. Using every edible part of the plant, utilizing scraps, and composting are just as important.” 

How to: Throw (almost) nothing away. Instead, make vegetable or chicken stock. Make soup. Make pesto. Make pickles.

10. From A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield: Ask farmers before you try, but do try to try. "If you have the opportunity to taste what you see," writes Bloomfield, "please do, though you should ask your farmer nicely first. Taste everything you can."

How to: Many farmers are willing to let you taste before you commit—and there's no better way to explore a fruit or vegetable or cheese that's not familiar to you. Just ask!

More: April Bloomfield, known for her meats, takes on vegetables.

Photos by James Ransom and Alexandra Stafford

Tags: Cookbooks, farmers market, tips