Farmers markets, along with breweries with giant patios, a lakefront that may as well be the ocean, and a skyline like no other make summers in Chicago worth the cold, hard winters we endure. If you’re like me, this means you tend to overdo it when the farmers markets are around, remembering back to the winter when you subsisted on beer and brats alone. Fresh kale, piled high and vibrant green? Yes, please. Zucchinis as far as they eye can see? In the bag they go.
Instead of being overwhelmed by what is soon to be prime farmer’s market season, follow these tips to make sure you make the best of the markets without wasting all of that beautiful produce!
1. Make a plan and stick to it.
Make a list of what you’re cooking this week (even a general list is better than no list at all!). Even if you don’t know exactly what you’ll make, have some things in mind: a salad one night, for example, and veggies on the grill the next. Thinking about how you’re going to cook the vegetables/food you’re eating this week will help steer you towards the produce that’ll fit into your plan for the week. Don’t get too distracted by the bounty that the market has to offer — you’ll end up throwing away all of that fresh produce you didn’t use.
2. Bring your own bag.
I’ve been the person juggling my iced coffee, a dog leash and errant tomatoes at the market, and trust me when I say that it’s just as uncomfortable as it looks. Instead of relying on the farmers to bring plastic bags for your produce, find a tote you love and pack it full of veggies. Better for the environment, better for the farmers, and better for your walk home!
3. Ask for advice.
Not sure what that twisty green veggie is? Unclear on how fast you need to use up this fresh goat’s milk cheese? Standing in front of a table full of produce and not sure what will taste best with skirt steak? I have great news for you: there’s an expert ready, willing and excited to answer your question right across the table from you. Nobody knows the produce you’re buying better than the people selling it! Ask questions, get advice, and maybe even nab a family recipe or two.
4. Look beyond the produce.
This isn’t just a place to nab fresh fruits and veggies. Farmer’s markets are filled with all sorts of treats, from roasted heirloom tomatoes in jars to preserved black garlic to candles to coffee beans. Stop by those stands on your walk to meet your new favorite pantry items (and to grab a snack to munch on the way through!).
5. Leave a little room for a surprise.
I know, I know. I just told you to make a plan and stick to it to avoid getting overwhelmed. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of farmer’s market meanderings, it’s that there’s always one thing that catches my eye. Whether it’s a bouquet of wildflowers or a jar of Bloody Mary mix, a little something always takes up the last corner of my tote. Keep your eyes open, and enjoy the markets!
For the ultimate lesson on what to do with your farmers market haul, don't miss The Chopping Block's upcoming Farmer's Market Cooking Demo at Lincoln Square on Thursday, August 19 at 6:30pm.
Our chef will select the best, freshest ingredients at the Lincoln Square Farmers Market prior to class and will prepare a delicious meal including an appetizer, a vegetarian entrée and dessert. The meal will be improvised based on the available produce of the day, so come watch your chef create a super-seasonal meal using the best of the best ingredients and using techniques you can use when you shop locally all season long.