Fellow citizens of the Midwest, we have arrived. Summer is upon us, and so is the bounty of the legendary farmers’ markets. If you’re anything like me, you have them on your family Google calendar so you can take advantage of these precious seasonal shopping centers.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I go hard for farmers’ markets. There’s simply nothing like strolling around the stalls, pursuing the ripe, fresh produce grown on farms mere miles from our city home. It makes me feel excited about cooking all over again. I buy in bulk, perhaps as a subconscious defense mechanism against the inevitable fall that looms ahead. This shopping addiction, though less problematic than other vices, becomes a burden.
First, I strain every muscle I have in carting the spoils of my market visits home with me. Then, I panic, frantically trying to use up every scrap of fruit and vegetable before they go bad. I do it, breathe a deep sigh of relief, then get up the next morning and go to the market again. Reader, it is madness.
Over the last few weekends, I’ve abandoned my usual bucolic strolling and gone in instead with a plan. The result? Less money spent, less food wasted, all around happier weeks. Here are my secrets:
1. Ask your farmer what’s best that week.
If there’s anything we’ve learned by now, it’s that we cannot control the weather. Though asparagus is supposed to be ready by such-and-such date, it might not be. Ask the grower what’s actually looking best this week, then listen to them and buy that thing. Bonus points if you ask them how they cook it. They know the best secrets.
2. Have some meals in mind.
Much like grocery shopping, buying food at the farmers’ market gets more expensive when you go in hoping to be inspired by what’s for sale. You’ll walk away with more food than you’ll ever use. Browse through some cookbooks to gather general ideas and inspiration from recipes with easy-to-make substitutions, like Ali Slagle’s I Dream of Dinner, Carla Lalli Music’s That Sounds So Good, or anything by Abra Berens.
3. Don’t buy in bulk unless you know what you’re getting into.
I love the idea of having strawberry balsamic jam all winter. I crave a jar of canned tomatoes in the bleak midwinter days of February. All of these desires can be yours, but you have to be willing to put in the work. You don’t know, until you’re staring at them, how many strawberries come in a flat of strawberries. Then, you gain an intimate knowledge of that number as you wash and hull them by hand. It’s a journey, and one I go on every summer. The trick is to make sure that you have a day (Monday, preferably) set aside that week to do your canning/preserving. That way, you know you’ll get it done soon — just hold yourself to it!
4. Get creative!
Don’t just buy the same three things every weekend. Take some classes at The Chopping Block to learn some new cooking techniques, then go wild. After all, we only have a few months of summer here in Chicago. Go for it!
Did you know The Chopping Block offers free chef demos at the Lincoln Square Farmers' Market every other week during the summer? Join us at 5pm this Thursday, July 6 and see what creation Chef Dan Walsh comes up with based on his own market shopping spree!
If you could use guidance on how to preserve the best of summer's bounty, you cannot miss our upcoming Hands-On Summer Canning and Pickling class on Saturday, July 15 at 11am at Lincoln Square.