The neighborhood farmers’ markets and road-side fruit stands are buzzing! Some of you may have year-round markets near your home, but now is the time that spring and summer fruits and veggies start stealing the show. The difference in product availability and, for some, price makes for a different shopping experiencing than running to the nearest grocery store. Here are a few of my tips for making the most out of your market or fruit stand trip.
Before You Go:
- Take an inventory of what you already have at home. Just bought a few pounds of apples? Then you probably don’t need to buy more (if you do, they may not be fresh when you eat them).
- Make a list of anything you want to make sure you remember, such as ingredients for dinner. If you do what I do some weekends and throw something together like a contestant on Chopped, get some ideas by browsing through some recipes online that feature seasonal fruits and veggies,
At the Market/Fruit Stand:
- If it’s perishable, only buy enough for the next week. I get excited when I see the perfect tomato or taste some super sweet berries, but over-buying can lead to waste. You can also can, pickle, or freeze different fruits and veggies, but consider if you’ll have time to spend in the kitchen to prepare and process everything while it’s fresh (more information on preserving food at home here).
- Check fruits to see if they are ripe. Here’s a guide to tell if it’s ripe or not. Some vendors provide samples or give samples if you ask.
- Consider price. At some markets and fruit stands, prices can be much higher than a grocery store. The benefit of these places is that the produce is usually fresher, produced on a local farm, and has a smaller carbon footprint because it wasn’t transported across the country. Some markets and stands, however, are tourist spots and charge more (which may be a direct reflection of their high rent). If the price is high and the bounty doesn’t look great, consider holding off until your next trip to the grocery store.
- Bring cash. Credit and debit cards zap profit from small businesses. Help them out (and it’ll help you when vendors are able to keep their prices low).
- Bring your own bag or basket. Again, it helps keep the carbon footprint and costs for vendors low. And it makes you look like a market warrior. My favorite bags are from Baggu. They’re made of recycled plastic, can be washed in the washing machine, come in different sizes, and easily fit into my purse. I never leave home without one.
- If you want the best selection at a market, go early. If you want a chance to bargain prices down, go late. Some vendors will also cut a deal if you’re buying in bulk (like for canning or storing).
- Check out the other goodies (some have canned goods, nuts, honey, or baked items). It doesn’t hurt to take a look, as these will keep much longer in the kitchen.
- Take care when getting your findings home. I keep a small cooler in the back of my car for things that need to be chilled (eggs, cheese, fresh yogurt). And secure your watermelon (I’m not kidding!). I’ve made the mistake of putting it on my back seat, and it ended up rolling around on the way home right over my tomatoes and peaches.
When you get home: Once you get your market haul home, take some time to store and/or prep your goods. Fruits and veggies can be kept fresh longer if you store them properly. For example, berries can last longer if you soak them for 5 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar and 3 cups water (don’t rinse afterwards), then store in a covered bowl lined with paper towels. I have found tips online for storing fresh produce and refer to them often. The worst thing is buying beautiful fruits and veggies and never having the chance to enjoy them.
Do you have some more tips to share? I’d love to hear them! Comment below, or send me a tweet (@southernbeets). Happy shopping!