Here’s a confession: I’d never shopped at a farmers’ market before I went to write this article. Sure, I’d been to one — strolled through the stalls, snagged some samples, bought something prepackaged, posted an Instagram, and went on with my day. But that’s not shopping. That’s a wonderfully lazy start to a weekend of adventure. I’m talking buying groceries: thinking about the week ahead and getting the stuff to make it happen.
Getting the freshest, locally grown, organic produce is wonderful. So what stopped me? Well, I was afraid. Everybody else seemed so sure of themselves, so in-the-know, I assumed there was something I was just missing. I mean, is there anything more intimidating than a hippy grandma on a mission at the farmers’ market? I don’t think so.
I knew I needed to be brave. Armed with only a tote, some cash, and a shopping list, I faced my farmers’ market fears.
Needless to say, I not only survived but also learned some handy tips along the way. Take note, fellow farmers’ market rookies.
Tip 1: Have a Flexible Plan
Toss those romantic, let’s-see-what-looks-good notions aside. Go with a solid plan, but keep it flexible. I decided to shop for three perfectly summery recipes: Shrimp and Tomato Skewers, Strawberry and Quinoa Salad, and Pork Tacos with Grilled Peaches. Specifically, I was looking for tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. A short list kept me from reverting back to a lazy and/or overwhelmed stroll.
Remember: farmers’ markets are stocked by local vendors, so you’ll only find what’s in season. When shopping for recipes at your market, you might need to tweak some things based on what’s available to you. If you’re unsure about a specific swap, talk to the vendors.
For example, I decided to swap the cherry tomatoes in the Shrimp and Tomato Skewers recipe for purple bumble bee tomatoes because they were delicious and the best available. I talked to the vendor and he assured me that specific variety would hold up well on the grill (or in my tiny kitchen oven). Perfect.
Tip 2: Ask a Lot of Questions
If you’re walking in unfamiliar territory, or maybe just overwhelmed by the options, it can be a challenge to pick the best produce out of the bunch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled, “how to pick the perfect…” only to get home and realize I didn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most vendors will be glad to show off the literal fruit of their labor.
I wasn’t sure how the pick the best peaches for grilling — which variety? how firm? what color? how fuzzy? Instead of just walking away, I asked the vendor for help. Not only did he come over and thoughtfully handpick peaches for me, but he explained what he was looking for. Turns out, it’s about the background color (the quintessential red blush is always the same): orange is good and green is not ripe.
Tip 3: Try Before You Buy and Customize
Ask first, but most vendors are happy to offer free samples of produce, even if there isn’t a container of samples already on display (like the peaches above). It’s helpful to sample different varieties of the same thing to directly compare the flavors. Once you’ve tasted the options, pick what you think will work best.
I used to see samples as little treats — and, yeah, they totally are — but now I realize samples actually help you pick the best ingredients based on your preferences. Who’d have thought?
Don’t feel limited by fruits and veggies already sorted for you: it’s totally okay to make your own selections.
When I was picking out strawberries, I noticed the pre-sorted baskets had a mix of small and large strawberries, and I was going for something more uniform. With the help of the vendor, I created a custom basket to fit my needs. Get in there and pick your favorites.
Lastly, it’s good to hit the market during a lull, not right when it opens or before it closes. Taking advantage of a sweet spot somewhere in the middle means you can take your time and talk to vendors who aren’t swamped. Take note of the crowds every time you visit, and you’ll find the right time for you soon enough.
I walked away from the farmers’ market victorious, carrying a tote filled with my handpicked, taste-tested bounty. The scariest thing I faced was a folk singer covering Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black for a group of kids definitely under 12. Now it’s your turn. Pick a recipe and get to it. Be sure to share your bounty on Instagram using #confettikitchen!