Shop Smart at Farmers' Markets

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So excited for the Scotch Plains Farmers Market to Start! 

May 13,2017    8am-2pm

Summertime is finally here! After that long and cold winter we just had, I’m so excited for warm weather and sunny days. One of the things I look forward to most about summertime is the abundance of farmers’ markets. With more and more people choosing to buy and eat locally grown food, markets are quickly popping up all over the state.

My first trip to a farmers’ market was in Scotch Plains. They had the typical produce that I was expecting to see (apples, carrots, etc), and I was happily surprised to discover a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that I had never seen or heard of before. There was lots of fresh meat from local farms, fresh baked pies and breads, handmade soaps, honey, even jewelry and all-natural perfume! All of the farmers and vendors were so kind, generous, and genuinely happy to be there- quite a refreshing change from fast-paced cashiers at the checkout counters in the grocery store. That day I bought some fruit and some bread. I was greeted me with a warm smile and helped me select the best options. I feel really good about shopping at local farmers’ markets. It is a pleasant experience, the food that I buy is grown locally, and I like to help support people who live near me! It’s a win-win for everybody.

When I walk through a farmers’ market, I often see produce that I’m unfamiliar with. Some of the goodies can look quite different from what we are used to seeing. Below are some fun and unusual goodies you might find this summer at your local farmers’ market. I’ve also added some tasty recipes for each, so you’ll want to give them a try!

Chioggia beets

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Pronounced kee-OH-gee-uh, these little beauties are as pretty as they are tasty. Also called the candy cane or candy stripe beet, you can use them much like you would use a regular beet. They are a bit sweeter and require slightly less cooking time than a typical beet. Try using one of these recipes.

Cooking tip: add a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice when boiling. This will keep the vibrant colors from fading.



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This dinosaur-looking veggie is a type of cauliflower, and tastes very similar to broccoli. It ranges in color from bright green to deep purple. Look for a head that is vibrant and still has perky leaves, because that means it is super fresh. Don’t be intimidated, it isn’t as scary as it looks! Here are some recipes for you to try.

Garlic Scapes


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These green stems are actually flower buds from a garlic plant! They taste just like garlic and can be used the same way as you would use a clove of garlic. Here are some ideas of how you can use garlic scapes.

Fennel bulbs

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These look very similar to celery or onion, but the flavor is much different. You can eat it raw or cooked, depending if you want a crisp or softer texture. It has a strong aniseed flavor- very similar to black licorice. Here’s how you can cook with it.



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 This oceany-snack is often harvested right off of the coast of Maine. When eaten fresh, it tastes how you would expect seaweed to taste- like the ocean. But when it is pan-fried, the flavor turns smoky and savory like bacon. That’s right, I said bacon! Seriously guys, pick some of this up next time you see it and try one of these yummy recipes.


4 tips for a successful trip to the farmers’ market:

1) Be adventurous. Try something new! You never know what might become a new favorite.

2) Don’t be in a hurry. Give yourself some time to look around and admire all of the goodies that are available that day.

3) Bring your own bags. Some stands will have bags, but they will surely appreciate if you have your own bag to carry home your goodies.

4) Ask questions! If you are curious about what something is or would like to know if they have something in stock that isn’t on display, just ask! The farmers and vendors are so willing to help you in any way that you need.  Oftentimes the farmers will have funny stories to share, offer great recipes and cooking tips, and are always thrilled that you have chosen to support them.


It is important to remember that the produce you find at farmers markets will not always look as “pretty” as what you see at the grocery store. This is because it comes straight from the farm and isn’t covered in a shiny wax or treated with a preserving chemical to be shipped across the country. The seasonal produce will change, so you will see lots of different options as the summer turns to fall.

Rather than buying picked-over, much-too-shiny produce at grocery stores, I’d prefer to browse through an outdoor market on a nice sunny day. What a special connection it is to be able to talk with the people who lovingly grew the food that you are bringing home.

I hope this information is helpful to you! Please share your stories with us about the farmers’ markets you visit this summer.


Shop Smart at Farmers' Markets

l Buy only the amount you can use in a short period of time. l Look for produce that’s free from unusual odors or colors and signs of spoilage. l Handle produce gently to reduce bruising. Bacteria can thrive in the bruised areas. l Wash all fruits and vegetables with cool running tap water right before eating. Don't use dish soap or detergent because the FDA hasn’t approved or labeled these products for use on foods. l Scrub melons with a brush and running water, because bacteria can be transferred from the outside of the melon to the inside by a knife. l Store produce in containers that are free from excess liquid.

Deborah Citarella LOGO