You've woken up early, smug as you like, and have decided to hit up the plethora of weekend markets in and around Dublin, to show the whole world how you didn't go out and ruin your life last night.
Look at you go. Is there anything you can't do?
Now while shopping at a farmers' market is obviously the better choice when looking for good quality food, are you sure you're really doing your best to pick up the very best value?
That's where we chime in. Here are six great tips to remember when smugly perusing the rhubarb and fresh eggs of a Sunday morning, to make sure you get optimum bang for your buck.
(If you're not sure where to go, this infographic we published last summer may help.)
1. Keep it seasonal
While most farmers are made up entirely of a mix of integrity, hard work and a Snow White-esque appeal to animals, some farmers do indeed take shortcuts. Hey, no judgement, we all do.
A quick internet search for 'harvest produce calendar' should reveal exactly what is and isn't in season, hopefully protecting yourself from culinary disappointment.
2. Chat to the farmers
It makes sense, they obviously know a lot more about their products than you do. So don’t be shy; ask about when produce was harvested, what conditions are like for animals, even recipe and preparation advice.
They'll appreciate that you appreciate their food.
3. Leaves = important
Learning to read the leaves of plants gives you a good idea of its stage of freshness.
A good vendor won’t remove the leaves from their stock, allowing you to get a sense of how recently it was picked. Green, full, healthy growth is what you're looking for, especially for root veggies like carrots.
This also applies for herbs. Avoid wilted herbs (obviously), it means they've been around for a few days and no one has bothered to refrigerated them. Think of them as stale bread rolls - not okay.
4. Look before you squeeze
This is important, so listen up. Getting handsy with your produce before buying is really not at all necessary.
For most produce, the freshest vegetables should be easy to see. Bright colours are your man. Certain foods do darken as they ripen, but brighter colours tend to be a good indicator of how long it took them to get to market.
5. Become mates with your fish supplier
Getting the freshest seafood can be tough if you’re not near a coast, especially since many farmers' markets don’t do fish runs every day. Vendors at smaller markets sometimes have no choice but to serve up catches that have been sitting on ice for a day, which you’ll want to avoid.
The best way to go about it is to talk to the fishermen who bring their catches to market, and get info on when they were caught.
To test if a fish is fresh, ditch the no-touching rule (if allowed, definitely ask before you feel up their fish). Firmness is key, ie the fish should bounce back when you poke it, not sag. And as strange as this sounds, it shouldn’t smell too fishy – really fresh seafood smells like the sea from which it came.
6. Overwhelmed at what to buy? Pick up the basics
While farmers' markets have a reputation for offering deadly, specialty foods, the basics are where they really excel.
Standard ingredients like eggs, milk, and flour that will have the biggest effect on the flavour of any dish. For that reason, it’s best to pick up these at a farmer’s market, where you can be certain of the quality and freshness.
7. Or maybe even just try out some new vegetables
Farmers tend to grow a lot more small batch, and potentially random, vegetables (like multi-coloured carrots and different varieties of potatoes and purple asparagus) than supermarkets stock.
So instead of gasping in disbelief that green garlic actually exists, why not pick one up and ask the vendor what you can whip up with it? Farmers have seen their crops grow from seedling to moody teen to fully fledged vegetable, so you best believe they know what to do with their delicious offspring.
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