How To Shop On-The-Fly At The Local Farmers’ Market
With the sun shining and an endless variety of produce being at its peak, August is high-time for farmers’ markets. Head to one of the many throughout the Garden State and you’ll see what we mean – the “aisles” of vendors are long, the parking lots are full and those who know a good tomato when they see one are leaving with full bags of meat, vegetables, breads, pastries, artisan condiments and more.
Most of those people later head to the grocery store to find what they thought they couldn’t get at the local farmers’ market. But as we’ve been showing our Mount Salem Kitchen guests for nearly five years, you can completely prepare a meal from scratch using the freshest, locally-grown ingredients – all without a recipe or heading elsewhere.
Our Market Day classes
We’ve been doing this through our annual Market Day cooking class, which we normally hold at the beginning of September. We meet our guests at the Clinton Farmers’ Market, brief them on our shopping strategy, shop away, and then go to Mount Salem Kitchen to prepare the lunch and enjoy it alongside wine.
Throughout the years, we’ve made tons of local dishes, including risotto with lamb sausage and sage leaves; grilled pork chops stuffed with fresh herbs and cheese; and grilled chicken with Jersey tomatoes, basil and corn kernels.
Lessons to last a lifetime
But what we’re most proud of isn’t a delicious lunch. It’s showing our visitors how to pick ingredients strategically so they don’t go to waste; how to create a well-balanced meal on the fly, using the freshest ingredients and without a recipe; and why being able to meet your farmer face-to-face and discover hard-to-find artisan items is something worth driving for.
What’s happening here: Delectable Food Events Are On the Calendar at Mount Salem Kitchen
Due to COVID-19, we may not offer the Market Day class this year – keep an eye out on our social media pages for updates. But in the meantime, you can still become a pro farmers’ market shopper by following these tips.
Farmers’ market shopping tips
- Arrive early, ideally as soon as the market opens – the best items sell out quickly!
- Instead of initially buying everything you see as you see it, first start at one end of the market and browse each table, making mental notes about what’s available and what looks good. A menu will begin to form in your mind as you do this. Then, head back to purchase.
- Get to know your farmers and develop relationships with them. They may have a great recommendation for an ingredient or can set aside items for you. Don’t be afraid to ask them what’s coming next week, too!
- Don’t be deterred by faraway vendors making an appearance or items past their peak. Shop for what’s truly local and fresh.
- Shop for the season (like strawberries in the summer, squash in the fall.) Enjoy items at their best for optimum flavor.
- As you shop, keep one cuisine in mind, such as Italian, French, etc. This will help you to not get distracted by ingredients that won’t be able to help you.
- There’s no need for molecular gastronomy: feel free to get a little creative, but remember that often in food, keeping it simple goes a long way. Plus, when your ingredients are this fresh, they speak for themselves.
- While developing your menu, remember the rule of three: three courses (an appetizer, entrée and dessert), three dishes per plate (a protein, a vegetable and a starch), and three ingredients per dish to keep it simple.
- So that you can shop on the fly and just focus on what’s fresh, keep a well-stocked pantry of items such as dried goods like pasta and rice; oils and vinegars; dried herbs and spices; and anchovy, capers and olives. These are often sold at farmers’ markets, too, so keep an eye out!