Farmers’ Market Tips & Tricks

I have a confession, I’m a farmers’ market addict.  I can still remember trailing my mother through the bustling stalls at the market taking in the intense aroma of basil, picking out vibrant Sweet Williams, and feeling elated at the melange of colors and scents swirling around me.  My mother, grandmother and I all volunteered at the Green City Market in Chicago.  My grandmother even edited their cookbook years after the market’s inception!  This love runs deep.

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My first trip to Paris felt a bit like coming home as I wandered in and out of markets realizing that every day was farmers’ market day somewhere in the city.  Rather than relegating outdoor, seasonal shopping to spring and summer, the French indulge in this beloved pastime of mine year round!  I witnessed kittens curled up between crates of fresh peaches, a harvest’s worth of brilliant strawberries rich like rubies in their paper containers, thickly bound bunches of dried lavender, and even tiny snails wrapped up in brown paper waiting to be bathed in butter and garlic.  Needless to say, I fell even more in love with France after discovering this rich market culture.

And then last summer in Provence, the markets were a sight to be taken in.  I could hardly contain my excitement flying from vendor to vendor, admiring everything and buying even more at the main market in Aix and at the smaller one in St. Remy.

farmers marketfarmers market farmers marketNow that it’s market season again, I plan my weekends around our Sunday trips to Headhouse Square in Philadelphia where the market is held under the historic Headhouse Shambles.  Even as a market veteran, I tend to lose all sense of what my family can actually eat and stock the house with enough produce for a small bistro.  However, with years of experience, I have gleaned some valuable lessons that I’m excited to share with you today!

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{1} I’m still working on heeding this advice myself, but try not to over buy.  It’s easy to get swept away by all the gorgeous goods!  However, keep in mind that fresh from the farm produce will last longer so it’s not the end of the world if you go a bit overboard.

{2} Don’t wait till next week.  The crops are constantly changing so if you see something you want, buy it!  Certain produce is likely to stick around all season (think tomatoes, corn, peaches) but if they look particularly good one week, don’t wait!  There’s no guarantee they will be as beautiful or bountiful in coming weeks.

{3} Take an initial stroll.  I can’t tell you how many times I have purchased red leaf lettuce only to stumble upon BUTTER red leaf lettuce a few stalls down or snatched up less than stellar tomatoes only to find the most luscious heirlooms at the very end.

{4} Bring a sturdy bag and cash.  Some vendors take cards, but I never presume that they will.  Having smaller bills is super helpful since you’ll likely have your hands full and want to pay quickly.  I love my trusty French market bag and I’ll toss a couple smaller reusable totes inside in case my finds exceed the bag’s capacity or I have more fragile items.

{5} Purchase flowers last.  This is always a gamble but I prefer to purchase these on my way out so they don’t wilt or get tousled about during my shopping.

{6} Arrive early.  The best and less bountiful options will go quickly.  To avoid what I like to call “market mania” (you know that feeling where you have to buy everything RIGHT NOW because there are so many people and ahhh they are totally going to get the best stuff – or is that just a me thing?), give yourself plenty of time to peruse and purchase.

{7} Don’t stick to a strict list.  A loose list isn’t a bad idea, although to be honest I rarely use one, just remember that everything is seasonal and the weather affects what is available so don’t be afraid to go rogue.

{8} Don’t shy away from meat and dairy.  Just ask the vendor to hold them for you until the end so they stay nice and cold!

{9} Ask for a taste.  Farmers are more than happy to cut you a slice of peach or describe the nuances of shitakes, just ask!

{10} Try something new.  I try to buy one item that I don’t know much about each trip.  I’ve discovered squash blossoms and ramps through these edible adventures!

farmers market farmers market Do you have any tried and true shopping tricks or tips?  Follow along on my Instagram for my weekly market adventures and tips on what’s in season!farmers market farmers market

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