Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer Bounty

Doug and I really love going to the farmer's market in Burke, where we live. It's very near our condo and we go every Saturday morning. There is always a ton of great produce, baked goods, dairy products and a smattering of other things like flowers and various home-canned products.

Here is our most recent haul:


Clockwise, from left: huge, fragrant freestone peaches, fresh-from-the-dairy 2% milk in a glass bottle that we exchange every week, farm fresh eggs, green beans, the sweetest blueberries I've ever eaten, super-sweet pear tomatoes and delicious green peppers, which will be used for stuffed peppers and jambalaya some time next week.

This past week, I also drove up to the U Street farmer's market in DC to check out a friend's new farmer's market stand called Whisked! Jenna is the person who baked the cake pictured in our first blog entry (aka our wedding cake). The cake was a take-off on bananas foster with banana cake, rum-flavored caramel between the layers, salted caramel buttercream frosting and little cracked up pieces of caramel around the sides. There are people who still tell us it's the best wedding cake they've ever had every single time we see them.


Anyway, at the Whisked! stand, I also picked up a mango chile popsicle because it was insanely crazy hot this weekend, a pulled pork savory tart for dinners and lunches this week and a lemon blueberry poundcake, which got sliced up and taken to church this morning. Also at the U Street farmer's market, I bought a ham hock for beans next weekend, a pound of organic, free range ground beef for the stuffed peppers, a package of freshly made gnocci (Italian potato dumplings), a package of roasted corn and tomato ravioli and a jar of roasted shallot and Barolo tomato sauce. I'd share a picture of my second harvest this weekend, but the fact is, we've already eaten a great deal of it.

The funny thing is, before Doug and I met, Doug had never been to a farmer's market, even though the one in Burke is one of the oldest in Fairfax County and he had lived right beside it for nearly five years. I, on the other hand, was fully familiar, having grown up in San Luis Obispo, California where they close the main street through downtown to car traffic every Thursday night year-round and have a big community gathering, where you can also buy produce, meat, cheese and anything else your refrigerator might be lacking. The photo below encapsulates it pretty nicely.


What is great is that we have discovered that there are many fruits and veggies Doug thought he disliked, but really he just liked the unripe and flavorless or mushy and over-cooked variety he had been exposed to as a kid. Now he eats peaches, green beans, zucchini, summer squash and pretty much anything else except eggplant, which we both agree isn't very good and even if it were, wouldn't be worth the trouble.

And because we're good little nerds, here is a short checklist of things to bring and/or consider before heading  to a farmer's market for the first time.

1. Save your plastic grocery bags. We use them for the produce and meats we pick out. All the stands have them anyway, but why use their new ones, which cost them money, when you can reuse your old ones?

2. Bring your reusable grocery bags. When you start seriously shopping the market, you'll probably need more than one because, as we discovered the hard way, glass milk bottles are heavy.

3. Bring cash. We usually need around $35 or a little more if we want flowers or two jars of milk. Some stands take credit cards, but not all. It's also more expensive for the farmer if you use a card because they get charged a processing fee.

4. Have a flexible list. You might think you want apples, carrots, peas and potatoes, but probably not all of those things are in season at any given time. Our list usually looks more like: 8 fruits, 4 vegetables, milk, 2 meat, eggs and bread. Being flexible lets you pick what looks best and is most abundant that day.

5. If you don't know how to use a particular item, just ask. Either the people running the booth or the other customers will tell you. This is not the grocery store. People expect you to strike up conversations.

6. If you'd like a taste, just ask. Many stands will have already cut-up fruit, cheese or whatever for you to try. If they don't ,feel free to ask for a sample. I've never had anyone say no.

7. Get there early or be prepared to be patient. We usually try to get to the market right when it opens at 8, but we're not always so virtuous. If we're later than 10 minutes early, at the popular stands, lines can get long. Also, after a couple of hours stands start to run out of some things. You'll be fine as long as you just want peaches, bell peppers and squash, but if you're looking for eggs, berries or our favorite treat, a particular bar cookie called an oatmeal carmelita, you may be out of luck.

And that's it! Happy marketing!
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