Your Summer Produce Questions, Answered

PHOTO: GREG DUPREE; PROP STYLING: KAY E. CLARKE; FOOD STYLING: CAT STEELE
Ready for all that summer produce? Keep these tips in mind when shopping at the farmers' market.

It is the best season for visiting the farmers' market. Strolling through the market and talking to the farmers. Ah, the farmers, who are there to help you buy the best and really learn about what you’re picking and purchasing. From crisp apples to juicy watermelon, there's so much to enjoy. If you don’t want to come off as a complete novice, here are some great tips to keep in mind when strolling through the market:

Tomatoes

Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Kellogg's Breakfast—if the names of novelty and heirloom tomatoes don't make you smile, their eye-popping shapes, vibrant colors, and robust flavors will. When tomatoes are at their peak, a sprinkle of flaky salt is all they need.

But what happens if you went a little crazy at the farmers' market and have some overripe tomatoes on your hands? Margaret Ann Toohey of Snow's Bend Farm in Tuscaloosa, AL has a solution:

At least once each summer, we fill up a stockpot with overripe tomatoes and cook them down all day, stirring occasionally. Then we freeze them in freezer bags. In the winter, when we have more time, we add in garlic, herbs, and onions and make the best tomato sauce ever.

Squash

Whether you have an overproductive vegetable garden or there you just couldn't pass them up at the farmers' market, summer squash and zucchini tend to pile up this time of year. You'll want to keep your haul fresh, so remove your zucchini and summer squash from plastic bags, which can trap in moisture and make them slimy. Store the veggies in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

Field Peas

Black-eyed, crowder, purple hull, lady, and cream–those are just a few of the kinds you'll find at the market. Shelling peas on the back porch on a summer afternoon is practically a rite of passage in the South. Fresh field peas also freeze beautifully, so buy plenty and don't forget to dig into your stash all year long. Knowing how many pounds of unshelled field peas to buy at the market can be a challenge. Depending on the type of legume (some pods contain more peas than others), 3/4 pound of unshelled pods will yield roughly 1 cup of field peas.

Eggs

Long gone are the days when the only decision we had to make was between brown and white. Strolling through the farmers' market today, you'll be amazed by the rainbow of beautiful blue, green, and yellow hues. Not sure what the difference between all these colors are? Alex Simpson of Simpson's Eggs in Monroe, NC explains.

There is no major difference in the nutritional value, quality, or flavor between brown and white eggs. Their color depends on the breed of the hens. White eggs come from hens with white feathers and earlobes, and brown eggs come from hens with red feathers and earlobes.

Watermelon

What's more refreshing than juicy watermelon by the slice? Watermelon by the glass. Or—even more fun—as an ice pop. Whip up a batch of fresh watermelon juice, and serve it as a signature cocktail, chilled soup, smoothie, or afternoon treat. We won't judge if the juice drips down your chin. Not sure how to pick out the ripest watermelon? Lee Wroten of Global Produce Sales, Inc. in Lakeland, FL tells you want to look for.

Check the stem. A green stem means it is fresh and has not been off the vine for too long. The watermelon should also be fat for its length and have a shiny, green exterior with well-defined stripes.

Eggplant

With its bold purple (or white or yellow or green) shades and curvaceous shapes, the eggplant is one of the most eye-catching vegetables at the market. It's also probably the most underused. Overwhelmed by the many types of eggplants? Relax—they don't taste all that different. Smaller ones tend to be creamier and more tender when cooked. Pick a firm eggplant with smooth, shiny skin.

WATCH: Make Fruits & Veggies Last Longer

Honey

Fruits and vegetables get all the glory at the farmers' market, but savvy shoppers know to look for jars of this golden, locally produced liquid that's far superior to anything at the supermarket. Whether you find wildflower, blueberry, or clover honey, stock up and add it to more than just your hot tea.

Figs

Soft, not squishy, is the key when choosing good figs. Because their season is short and the fruit is perishable, there should be a holiday dedicated to celebrating this syrupy summertime treat. Load up on a few pounds of them at the farmers' market, and make an easy jam and or a sweet-savory flatbread. Not sure if they're ripe? Gently wiggle a fresh fig by the stem to see if it moves too much. If it does, that's a sign that the fig might be overripe and mushy inside.

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