Friday, August 2, 2013

To Market, to Market: With a List or Without?

This morning, an interesting article popped up on my Facebook page via PBS Food: Five Tips for Farmers' Market Shopping. Hmmm...I thought when I saw the title, sounds intriguing, but how much advice does one really need on how to shop at a market?

Show up. See what looks good. Buy it. Take it home. Seems simple enough, right?

The article did have some good tips though, urging readers to bring their own bags, have cash on hand, and  ask questions. While all of these may seem obvious to the veteran market goer, it is good advice for a novice, in particular the last point--get to know your farmers! What are their growing practices? How big is the farm? Just how local are they? What would be their top pick from the harvest that week? Chatting with your farmer and other vendors makes the market a lot more fun, and the relationships that form can play a key role in holding a food community together. You may, for example, find out that your favorite farm needs volunteers to help with their efforts to get more land, or other things you would never know without stopping to chat!

Three good tips, indeed, but the first two were a big surprise to me: Plan Ahead and Create a Meal Plan. This is the precise opposite of how I shop at a farmers' market. In the winter, when options in New England are limited and I'm making huge batches of soup, a roast, or some other hearty recipe, I do prepare a list for the grocery store and think ahead about what I can get at the winter farmers' market. While I love the fact that we have an ever growing number of year round markets (I even wrote an article on it a while back for Edible Boston), there's no denying that the seasonal repertoire is limited--all of the root veggies and kale a girl can eat! But in July, when markets are in their glory, when new things are popping up every week--now fennel, now squash, now stone fruits!--the best thing about it is not having a plan. It's the brief time of year when I can let the market and all of its abundance tell me what the plan should be. Gorgeous tomatoes and herbs = fresh pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. Mounds of green and yellow summer squash = grilled squash salad with chive vinaigrette and feta cheese. You get the idea. For me, the market means freedom and inspiration. Stock your kitchen with whatever looks the best and you don't need a meal plan. Just open the fridge, grab whatever appeals, and get creative! Improvise a new dish altogether, or put a spin on a cookbook favorite. Some of the best dishes are born this way, not to mention some wonderful memories when you're cooking with or for the people you love.

Of course, we all approach our shopping and our cooking differently. What's your farmer's market style? Do you come prepared with a list or fly by the seat of your pants? Does your cooking style change from season to season?

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