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How a Food Editor Shops the Farmers' Market (Get All Her Tips!)

Learn Sarah Carey's secrets for finding the best produce.

Associate Digital Food Editor
farmers' market produce
Photography by: Sarah Carey

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While the 42 Burners team isn’t above ordering groceries online, when it comes to sourcing superior ingredients, there’s no substitute for a good farmers’ market. Our editorial director of food Sarah Carey is a longtime regular at the Union Square Greenmarket, the biggest farmers’ market in New York City. She swings by at least once a week on her way to the office, to shop for a photo shoot or to pick up some last-minute produce for recipe testing. “That’s the fun part!” says Sarah. “I get inspired and make real-time decisions for a story." For instance, "Do I want peaches with leaves, should I go for big ones or small ones, do I need them ripe today or tomorrow—all of those decisions get made at the market.” Here, her advice for getting the most out of your local farmers’ market.

farmers' market stand

Do a Walkthrough

Sarah always does a full lap around the market before buying anything to see who has the best selection that week and to avoid making any impulse purchases. Easier said than done, as there can be so much beautiful produce beckoning, especially at the peak of summer. But remember, there might be something even better a few stands away.

 

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tristar strawberries

Ask Questions

No one knows the product better than the farmers, so don’t be shy! Sarah likes to ask farmers when they expect the season to end for certain produce; her most recent query was about the glorious Tristar strawberries that she's hoping to use in an upcoming cake story. She also occasionally inquires about specialty items, such as fruit-tree branches, needed for shoots.

 

Get Martha's Latest, Greatest Strawberry Recipes
greens-opener-028-d111711-1.jpg
Photography by: Bryan Gardner

More pro tips: If a booth doesn’t have samples set out, it’s a good rule of thumb to get permission before tasting something. Make more room in your bag by asking your farmer to cut the roots or tops off your vegetables if you’re not going to use them (although you really should try our Sauteed Beet Greens!). If organic is important to you, ask about farming techniques. While everything at a farmers’ market is obviously local, it may not be organic. Certification is a long, expensive process, and some farmers might still be waiting for it to come through, while others might be employing alternative farming methods.

farmers' market shopping

BYOB (Bags, Not Booze)

Sarah prefers sturdy tote bags that have some structure, ideally with a boxed bottom. Even more important: containers. She always makes sure to bring plenty of those plastic pints and quarts that are typically used for takeout. They might be less Instagram-friendly, but they're more secure than the cartons the produce comes in and perfect for fruits and vegetables that are prone to bruising, such as tomatoes and peaches.

 

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Sarah's farmers' market lunch
Photography by: Sarah Carey

Try Something New

In the summer, it’s a given that Sarah will pick up more stone fruit than she needs—she’s the undisputed queen of fruit desserts in the test kitchen. But she also gets excited about unfamiliar varieties of fruits and vegetables (like the striking, almost ombré Gold Medal tomatoes!) and experimenting with new flavor combinations (she recently added hyssop to a batch of poached apricots and peaches, to great results). Sarah says, “This is what always happens at the market: I go needing one thing and come back with armfuls of stuff.” Luckily for the test kitchen, that means there might be enough ingredients for a market-day lunch like the one pictured above!

 

 

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