Top Five Tips for Shopping at Farmers’ Markets
After almost six years volunteering at Chicago’s Green City Market (www.greencitymarket.org) and many more years shopping at farmers markets, I like to think I know my way around them but I can still be surprised by something I’ve never eaten before. This spring, for instance, a new vendor is selling black garlic, something I had never eaten or even heard of before. It is fermented garlic and you can cook with it the same way as raw garlic, but it’s sweeter and milder. Last Saturday, even parents wanted to try sorrel at the children’s tasting table because most of them had never experienced its unexpected flavour – like biting into a lemon. Discovering and tasting something new is one of the best parts of shopping at a farmers’ market. In this blog I’ve tried to include heirloom recipes using wild or forgotten ingredients you are unlikely to find at the supermarket — such as nettles or gooseberries — to share a little bit of the excitement of shopping at a market. Here are my top tips to enhance your market shopping experience:
- Get there early. Popular items such as eggs or the first asparagus or strawberries of the season go fast.
- Bring cash. Small bills are appreciated. Although more vendors these days are using the Square smartphone technology to process credit cards, most still only accept cash.
- Go with an open mind. Walk around the market before shopping to see what is available and in season. Try something new.
- Bring your own shopping bags and containers for berries, tomatoes or other easily bruised fruit. Bring an insulated bag or cooler to keep dairy products, eggs or meat cold.
- Ask questions. If being organic or sustainable is important to you, ask the farmer about his or her farming practices. If you don’t know what something is or how to cook it, ask the farmer or another shopper. Most people shopping at the market love food and cooking and will be excited to share their knowledge.
About two weeks ago I stumbled on an article in a tech blog about an intriguing new product for bakers — an iPad connected kitchen scale that makes measurements and scaling recipes easy. You can retire the calculator. I was surprised and excited to discover that the team behind this ingenious invention is Irish. Check it out at www.getdrop.com. Until July 4, preorders get Drop for $20 less than retail price by clicking the access code below.
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A few people who stopped by Chicago’s Irish Christmas Market http://montrosegreen.com/irish_christmas_market last weekend asked whether the Irish brown and white bread is frozen. Although the customers may have been frozen, the bread was not. However, it freezes very well if you want to buy a loaf or two or a few scones to eat over Christmas. The bread and scones are all freshly baked. The brown bread is made with organic stoneground whole wheat flour and the scones are made with organic eggs. The scone packets include a plain sweet scone, a golden raisin (sultana) scone and an orange and cranberry scone.
Here are tips on storing Irish bread and scones:
The bread is wrapped in plastic because it is being sold at an outdoor market.I recommend removing the plastic when you get home and storing the bread in a paper bag. The scones will be alright in the cellophane storage bags. If you want to save the bread or scones to eat later, freeze them in freezer storage bags. Before eating, let them defrost at room temperature. To refresh the scones, place them in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes.
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Thanks to everyone who braved the cold and snowy weather this weekend to visit the Irish Christmas Market in Ravenswood. I’m especially grateful to those of you who bought my bread and scones. This was my first attempt at selling my baked goods at a market. I’m happy to report that it was successful and I hope to bake more for next weekend’s market.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, http://honeybutter.com/, the much anticipated restaurant by Sunday Dinner of underground dinner club and Chicago Green City Market fame (their amazing hamburgers are still missed) opens this Saturday, Sept. 14. The line for chicken was out the door during last night’s soft opening. The crispy coating on the moist and flavorful chicken has a spicy kick. The menu includes cornbread and interesting seasonal side dishes like roasted corn and tomato and chinese broccoli with feta. Fried chicken and fizz are a surprising but great match. I was happy to see that the wine list includes Cava because this chicken is certainly worth celebrating.
“Sunday Dinner” brings to mind leisurely Sunday dinners in Ireland — which are eaten in the afternoon. Sunday dinner typically consists of some kind of roast meat with two kinds of potatoes and vegetables. In future posts I’ll share my secret for the best ever roast potatoes and other Sunday dinner classics.
I was very happy to read today that the Daily Meal website named my favorite farmers’ market, Chicago’s Green City Market, number three among its 101 best farmers’ markets in America (http://www.thedailymeal.com/101-best-farmers-markets-in-america.) I have been volunteering at the Green City Market for five years and many of my recipes are inspired by ingredients I find at the market on Saturday mornings. It operates year round, outdoors in Lincoln Park near the Farm-in-the-Zoo (at Lincoln and Clark Streets) from May through October, and then moves indoors to the Nature Museum at Fullerton and Cannon Drive for the winter. It’s a fun place to spend Wednesday or Saturday mornings with a large number and variety of vendors (all organic or sustainable), chefs’ demos, music, great prepared food and activities for kids. The market also runs the Edible Gardens program at Lincoln Park Zoo to teach children how to grow and eat vegetables. You might even spot a celebrity chef or two. There is more information about the market on its website: http://www.greencitymarket.org.
What is your favorite farmers’ market?