“These are the best damn peaches I have ever eaten!” -Me, at a farmers market, every time I eat freshly picked peaches. Or strawberries. Or carrots. Or potatoes. Pretty much insert any produce in place of “peaches” and it’s true. If you’ve had freshly picked fruit or veggies from your garden or local market, you know that they are the most flavorful fruits & veggies you have ever eaten. One time, I bought a box of freshly picked snap peas and they tasted like no other snap peas I had ever eaten before. And the box was gone in hours. Snap peas! Who knew? We all know that fresh produce is the healthiest option to feed our body, especially if it is recently picked, plucked or harvested. But we are always hearing it and saying it. “Eating healthy is just too expensive.” I have definitely felt that way. I have been known to walk into natural food stores for some avocado and end up walking out spending in the triple digits. Eek. Same goes for me at the farmers market. Same day hand-shelled pecans for $10 a tiny bag? I’d love to, but I need a place to keep my bed.
Going to your local farmers market should make you excited about the food that you are buying, knowing that it is fresh, contains more nutrients, better flavor and benefits your local economy and the environment. Being connected to our food is a visceral experience that makes us eager to be healthy and do right by our bodies. So, do your body and soul some good and head out to your local farmers market this summer with the following tips and tricks in mind.
Get to know your farmers. I know it sounds insanely simple, but say hello and ask them how their day is going and what they recommend from their stand. They will most likely give you samples and glow with pride about their craft. They work extremely hard and want to make their customers happy. You might even end up with a farmer’s family recipe.
Ask for damaged fruit. Ask farmers if they are selling any seconds, or fruit that is too bruised or soft to put out to sell. Some will bring this fruit to the market to sell on the cheap and to use as their samples. Bring it home and make jams, preserves, and chutneys. I recently picked up 4 lbs. of peaches for $4, instead of the $16 it would have cost me for the prom king peaches. See peach preserve recipe below to see how I used them. Don’t have the time to make something that week? Chop into quarters or slices, discard any bad spots and lay on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze for later use. Smoothies anybody?
Volunteer. This piggybacks #1. The farmers will get to know you and are extremely appreciative of your time in helping the market run. They may offer your discounts or some produce at the end of the day as a thank you. Tip: I never ask for it, but when they offer I accept it gracefully and gratefully.
Stick with produce that is in season. In the winter I can get a 3-pack of strawberries for $15. $15!!!! That is so much money for a snack in my book and I won’t be baking with them or cooking them down. Not at that price. But in the Spring and summer these prices drop from $15 to just $7. Bulk buy, freeze and can. Check out this awesome interactive guide for produce in season in your neck of the woods.
Ask for end of the day discount. If you go to the market when it is about to close, some farmers would rather sell at a discount than haul food back where it most likely feeds the pigs or gets added to the compost. Ask if they have any end of the day deals and if they offer, score!
Try something new (a little at a time). Avoid loading up your basket with kumquats, kohlrabi and oyster mushrooms in one trip. Pick one new veggie per trip so you don’t spend your time on Google asking “What do I do with fresh Jujubes?” nor end up with produce melting in to your crisper drawer after a few weeks. Ask yourself, what can I make with this? Do I have time this week to make it? Can I freeze it if I don’t use it right away?
Talk to the vendors about their farming practices. For me getting happy chicken eggs is worth the extra $1 or $2 than conventional ones at the market. I have asked what they are fed, how much room they have, etc. I have gotten various reactions to this and will only buy from the ones who are happy to tell me. A lot of times they will pull out a picture book so you can see how they are snuggled and read to every night before bed. (Insert more Portlandia-isms here).
Walk or ride your bike. Knowing that you have to haul your purchases back to your home will make you think twice before you buy and keep to the essentials.
Farmers market peach preserves
Apprx. 4 lbs. peaches
1 tbsp. pectin
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. grated ginger
Wash peaches and chop into quarters, removing any bad spots (if using damaged peaches) and pits. Add peaches and remaining ingredients to saucepan over medium heat, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until thickens, about 20 minutes. Use a spoon to pull back fruit mixture and if an empty space is left for a few seconds, turn off stove and remove from heat.
Transfer to jars and refrigerate. If you are canning, place in sterilized canning jars and place in hot water bath for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from hot water bath and store on shelf.
Notes on serving: I made a peach, basil, goat cheese crostini with these preserves for a friend’s bridal shower and broiled them for 8-10 minutes. The sweetness of the peach paired with the subtle tang of goat cheese and the fragrance of the basil work as a triple threat for your taste buds.
Notes on canning: I never had canning equipment except for tongs. To sterilize jars I boiled them in a large pot. I then used the same pot for my hot water bath. Invest in the tongs! I didn’t have them for my first few canning experiences and used to use a ladle and dish towels to scoop out the jars. Ouch!