Farmers Market Inspiration

The nutritious side of slow food

It’s farmers market season, and locals and tourists alike are hitting the numerous ones cropping up around the area.

But some home cooks can be intimidated by cooking fresh produce, particularly what is found at the farmers markets, which does not come washed, trimmed, chopped, and sealed in an airtight plastic bag.

“It’s so convenient these days for people to go to Walmart and buy crap,” says local chef ERIN WILEY. “I think it’s very important to know what we’re eating – how and where it was raised.”

Wiley considers herself fortunate for the opportunity to work closely with local farmers and their products since she moved to Wilmington several years ago. Most recently, she helped open and is currently sous chef at Rx Restaurant and Bar.

“The farmers out here really have a lot offer,” she says. “It makes you feel better knowing what you’re enjoying is local and straight from the garden. It was picked and harvested this morning, not six weeks ago.”

We all know that we should be eating more fruits and vegetables. But as Diana Davis, registered dietician and nutritionist at Wilmington Health, points out, most Americans are eating only one to two servings per day instead of the recommended five to nine.

When it comes to purchasing locally, the benefits are far-reaching.

“Purchasing produce from local farmers ensures you are eating in-season fruits and veggies at the peak of ripeness, and this translates to higher levels of vitamins and other phytochemicals … believed to reduce risk for both heart disease and many types of cancer,” Davis says.

Let loose at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers’ Market on a recent Saturday, Wiley purchases eggs, pecans, kale, turnips, rutabagas, and tomatoes from farmers such as Bill Moller of Nature’s Way Farm & Seafood in Hampstead, who is a regular supplier of seafood, goat cheese, honey, and more to Rx.

As the morning mist burns off, Wiley discusses the dangers and rewards of keeping bees with Mary Ann Olsen of Olsen Gardens.

The atmosphere of the market is reason enough to attend, but here are some tips from Wiley and Davis to help make any farmers market trip more user-friendly:

Get there early. The Riverfront Farmers’ Market, for example, opens at 8 a.m., and by 9:30 or 10 a.m., the produce is picked-over and it can become difficult to elbow your way through the crowd of admirers to make a purchase.

Shop for one week. One of the main benefits of shopping a farmers market is the freshness of the produce. Buy only as much as your household can consume in a week. If it’s going bad, use it. Look up a recipe or ask that foodie friend of yours what they would do. “It’s so easy these days to pickle and can,” Wiley says. Easy food preservation methods and recipes are readily available on the Internet, and your friends will be incredibly impressed when you pull out a jar of homemade pickled carrots or green beans at your next cocktail party.

Store produce properly. Not all produce should be refrigerated. Items such as tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, apples, and onions are better stored at room temperature. Wiley points out that “most local produce has a longer shelf life than what we buy in the grocery store.” Davis suggests washing and cutting less perishable produce into ready-to-use portions when you purchase it. That way you can grab it on the go.

Research. If you know what produce is in season and likely to be available at the market, you can peruse recipes ahead of time. “Having a really loose idea of what you want to make and working that recipe within the boundaries of what’s fresh and available is your best bet,” Wiley says. This will help you purchase what you’ll actually use and also get the correct quantities.

Make friends. Don’t be afraid to ask the farmers you’re purchasing produce from how to cook certain vegetables. The farmers often have lots of ideas on what to do with the produce they grow. Or if you see a shopper picking up an item you’re interested in, ask them how they prepare it. Most cooks love to share their methods and recipes.

If all else fails … try a salad or smoothie. “Most people are able to at least identify a handful of vegetables at the market. Any fresh and local fruits and veggies can be tossed with some salad greens and your favorite dressing,” Wiley says.

Be adventurous. If you try something new and it doesn’t work out, try again. “Cooking is all trial and error,” Wiley says. “Trying new things, troubleshooting recipes, and just having a good time is what’s important.”

For recipe ideas from the farmers market, click here.

To view more of photographer T.J. Drechsel’s work, go to www.tjdrechselphotography.com.

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