Farmer’s markets are the perfect places to find some of the best produce all year round. Especially during the summertime, which is the biggest growing season of the year.
But how do you choose the best fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market?
That question could be easily answered by the “Queen of the Santa Monica Farmers Market,” Karen Beverlin, whose job at Sysco FreshPoint is to work closely with farmers to source the best produce for restaurant chefs throughout the region.
“I feel like she’s the Godmother of the market,” said Chef Tristan Aitchison of Providence Restaurant in Los Angeles of Beverlin’s produce-picking skills. “I can ask her which is the sweetest nectarine and she’ll tell me exactly which farmer has that one.”
On her Instagram, @fpproducehunter, Beverlin shares her top tips with her more than 25,000 followers on how to pick the best fruits and veggies all year round. Now, she’s given “GMA” the inside scoop on how to get the most from summer’s bounty. But first, here are a few tips on Farmer’s Market etiquette for your next trip.
Farmer’s Market Etiquette
- Know the COVID requirements for the specific market you’ll be visiting and follow them
- Follow your market on Instagram to see what’s new
- Make a list of items you want but be sure to look at what each stand has to see if there’s something that calls to you. Consider good substitutes in case you can’t find something on your list.
- Many markets are not offering samples during this time, so if you aren’t familiar with the varieties, and you don’t know what to get, ask the farmer which is their favorite item and why, buy one piece of several different varieties, exit the stand, taste them and go back to buy the one you prefer.
- If the market is counting the number of shoppers going in and out, try to get your purchases made as quickly as possible.
Karen’s top tips for picking out produce
Lettuce and Leafy Greens
Bug holes are your friends. Karen says farms need bugs to have a balanced biome. When farmers spray pesticides to eliminate the plant-feeding bugs, they also eliminate the beneficial insects which feed on the plant-eaters. So, if you see a few bug holes, they can be a sign of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.
If the lettuce or leafy greens are a little wilted by the time you get home, put lettuce heads or loose-leaf greens in a sink or big bowl of cold water to refresh them and treat the bunch greens like flowers: cut off the end of the stem and put them in a glass or vase or water and let them drink before you put them in the fridge.
A nub of a stem still attached to a muskmelon means the melon wasn’t ripe when harvested.
Muskmelons, which are melons that have netting all over the fruit have a background color, but make sure that color isn’t green!
You can smell the melon, but don’t let your nose touch the fruit. Ripe melons have a sweet, fragrant smell, similar to when you cut into it.
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Stone Fruits (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, etc.)
The background color of a ripe peach or nectarine should be golden yellow. You can glimpse the background color around the stem, or on the body of the fruit — anywhere there’s a gap in the red blush — just peek at the areas between the red color.
Around the stem is the best place to look for that telltale golden yellow because it’s usually the last place that turns from greenish to gold.
Each variety of each stone fruit is available for two to four weeks; the second week is usually the best week for sugar and flavor, so ask the farmer how long that variety has been available.
For people who aren’t familiar with plum varieties, a pluot will be a better bet.
If a fruit is super soft, you’ve missed the best sugar and flavor it has to offer. Buy stone fruits while they’re still a little firm, and then let them ripen in your kitchen until they’re at the point you prefer them.
Silks should not be slimy or moldy.
To check the kernels or the corn for worms, don’t pull the husk back. Instead, just feel the tip of the ear through the husks — you can usually feel a worm tunnel — but learn to be okay with cutting off the end of the ear when you get home!
The calyx, which is at the stem end of a fruit, is a great indicator of the freshness of many items, including eggplant. On eggplants, they should be green and not dry or brownish.
An eggplant with a round scar at the bottom end should have fewer seeds than an eggplant with an elongated scar. The seed quantity is important because more seeds mean it’s bitter.
Note: The male and female eggplant theory of fewer seeds is not scientifically valid.
Many farmers often bring more than one variety of each berry to the market, so ask the farmer for the sweetest variety they have.
Blackberries and blackberry crosses should be full black color—not red—and shiny.
Raspberries should stand up and not look slumpy. When they’re getting old, they kind of sink down and don’t look firm.
For strawberries, look at the red between the seeds—that red should be shiny and smooth.
Heirloom varieties should be firm but full of color. You can ask the farmer to select full-color tomatoes for you if you’re allowed to touch the tomatoes, select for those qualities.
Newer, hybrid varieties are bred to have more color even if they’re not ripe so they’re more difficult to select for great flavor. So stick to heirloom varieties and cherry tomatoes like Sungolds and Sweet 100s when possible!
Figs don’t ripen once they’ve been harvested so they need to be harvested when fully ripe.
Look for or ask for figs that are a little soft and if they have a little shrivel that’s okay, too!
A very firm fig with perfect skin won’t be as flavorful as a softer, bumped, slightly skinned-up fig. Visual perfection isn’t required when it comes to selecting the tastiest fig!
Blenheim apricots have a green tinge, even when they are ripe, so the green background rule doesn’t apply to Blenheims.
When looking for great apricot flavor, avoid Castelbright, Paterson, Katy, Brittany Gold, and look for older varieties like Blenheims or the relatively new Robada.
Try to buy locally-grown if possible and try to wait for the peak of the season because early varieties are historically not good.
Some apricots ripen from the inside out (Robata and Blenheim) so if you wait until they are soft, you will have missed peak flavor and sugar.