Tips & Techniques

10 of the Best Farmers Market Tips We Learned from Cookbooks

June 26, 2015

 

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!

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:

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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.”

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

23 Comments

Katherine July 4, 2016
Brought me back to the farmer's market in Portland, OR. We'd fly in on Friday night so we could get there early in the AM Saturday. First stop, hand-made artisan pastry for breakfast. Then indulge in every scandalous grocery shopping excess -- see this, smell that, taste something else - artisan cheeses, jellies, preservers, produce, flowers, herbs of every possible kind. No list, decisions made on the basis of pure delight. Nothing to feel guilty about, it was all too good - ergo healthy. Then go back to my bro's and have a dinner to die for. Life doesn't get better than this. Thanks for the reminder.
 
Bob December 10, 2015
How I love the book. I can't live without it anymore.
 
Sarah H. July 16, 2015
What a beautiful read. Thanks for the tips! I'm heading out to the Farmer's Market as we speak!<br />
 
Manisha July 8, 2015
Tamar Adler's book is really good. I thought I was a good cook but then I read her book which made me more efficient and resourceful - all qualities that every cook should have. I used to reread her book every spring before CSA season began. I should do that again. Thanks for the reminder!
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 8, 2015
manisha, i reread it every spring too! or any time i feel like i'm in a kitchen rut. so inspiring.
 
brid July 8, 2015
Please look at 'Leaves from our Tuscan kitchen' by Janet Ross, still available in Penguin and written in 1900 (!!!) which is one of the best vegetable cookbooks you will ever find, and totally up to date with ideas.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 8, 2015
will do! thanks for the recommendation!
 
Ali S. July 8, 2015
Yes! I learned about that book from Emiko Davies. Here's her recipe for cannellini bean croquettes that's inspired by one in the book: https://food52.com/blog/12608-cannellini-bean-croquettes
 
Lazyretirementgirl April 28, 2016
Just found it used on Amazon for three bucks! Thanks for suggesting it.
 
Sally July 8, 2015
This is a great list of books. I'm surprised, though, that your post tagged 'Eat Your Books and Your Vegetables' makes no mention of the website Eat Your Books. It's such an invaluable resource--I use it almost every day! I'm sure your readers would be interested in it, especially those with cookbook collections.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 8, 2015
i'll check it out, sally! thank you for the recommendation.
 
Phillippa C. July 8, 2015
Chicago's Green City Market cookbook is also a great resource for cooking using local, seasonal ingredients from the farmer's market. www.greencitymarket.org/cookbook/index.asp.
 
chefrockyrd July 8, 2015
While not exactly farmers market tips but many many ideas of what to do with fresh vegetables can be found in an old cookbook (1982) still readily available - The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash. I don't know why it is not mentioned more. Wonderful recipes. Lots of special info and tips on each type. I have quadrupled the corn custard recipe for large gatherings and not had a spoonful left! <br />Marian is a peach!
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 8, 2015
i've never heard of it! looking forward to investigating. i love vegetable-focused cookbooks.
 
Michele M. July 8, 2015
I have just replaced my worn out copy. That book is a gem.
 
chefrockyrd July 8, 2015
yes i am on my second copy too. it did wear out and i don't think the glue held up very well. pages are loose and its held together with a rubber band. but i won't give it up.
 
AnneB July 6, 2015
Here's a shocker: I don't shop at farmer's markets. There's only one within a half-hour drive of here, and it's a small weekly parking-lot market for two or three months during high tourist season. The produce and other products are exceedingly expensive, so expensive that I can't afford to come home with more than a cucumber. It's very disheartening. I used to live in a city, where I loved and lived on the farmer's market. Here, though, even if I drive to the nearest town, the farmer's market there is much like the local one--over priced with very little selection.
 
AntoniaJames June 26, 2015
A word of caution about using very ripe and/or bruised "seconds": make sure to get every bit of bruise off and away from your preserving pan, as well as every last bit of very soft flesh where the "extra-ripe" has turned to "over-ripe". If you do not, you will utterly ruin whatever you are preserving. You will not know from the taste of the jam at the time you put it into the jars, but it will make itself apparent in the future, and you will have to throw out the entire batch - while hoping that you did not give any jars of that batch away. (I know this from experience. It's disheartening.) ;o)
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. June 26, 2015
a great tip!
 
Girlfromipanema June 26, 2015
I love "An Everlasting Meal." Tamar Adler also has some videos on how she "strides ahead" and cooks up vegetables for the week- definitely worth checking out.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. June 26, 2015
i definitely will! thanks for the tip—i love her writing.
 
Allyn June 26, 2015
These are all so true, but I really love number 2! We actually made some of our dearest friends from people we met at our old farmer's market in TN.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. June 26, 2015
yes! it's always so fun to see the same folks week after week.