Dana Slatkin

An Ode to Farmers Markets

Figs at a Farmers Market in Southern California

If you ask me, one of the most exciting places in any city is a farmers market. My favorite local haunt is the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the largest of the farmers markets in Southern California, stretching nearly five city blocks with more than 50 or more vendors. You may cook at home plenty already, or maybe you’re hoping for some inspiration. For me, coming to a farmers market is better than therapy: I’m relaxed and spontaneous, cheerful and chatty! It’s hard to have a chip on your shoulder when a friendly farmer is handing you a basket of sweet, juicy raspberries that were just picked yesterday. There’s so much good karma around it’s contagious.

If you’re like me and tend to get into food ruts, shopping at the farmers market is the best way to get new ideas and inspiration. Even though I’m a trained chef, I tend to make the same five dishes over and over. When I get home at 6 o’clock and have to throw together dinner in 10 minutes, I tend to fall back on the old staples. But coming here snaps me out of my rut and into a more creative mode.

In Summertime Anytime, you’ll find lots of recipes based on the fresh produce you’ll find at any farmers market. But I like to come without a list or recipes so I can be more flexible in creating my menu for the week. Talk to the growers and they will be thrilled to take their time to tell you their favorite preparations using their produce. Buy something you’ve never seen before, go home and give it a try! Most of the time, all you need is some good olive oil, some garlic and Kosher salt.
I promise you will get immediate gratification, plus you will feel empowered to try more!

Farmers Markets are also a great place to see what’s in fashion on the streets. I get lots of groovy style tricks just by studying some of the shoppers and even the growers. In fact, the classic farmers market look has become very á la mode this season: I’m talking about the plaid shirt with ripped jeans and flip-flops look, or the t-shirt and prairie skirt with sunhat look.

This year, most of my friends and I have decided we all have more than enough “stuff” and are dialing down the holiday gift giving. In the spirit of reducing my carbon and consumer footprints, I will be giving baskets of lovely produce and other consumables from — you guessed it — the Santa Monica Farmers Market (with a copy of my cookbook, of course!) The baskets will be filled with fresh produce, crusty breads, homemade jams and preserves and maybe a bonsai tree.

You probably all have a farmers market within a few miles of your house. If you live in California, you can go on www.cafarmersmarkets.org to find the market nearest you. Or, try an online search for farmers markets in your zip code.

Here are some TIPS to help you make the most of your shopping trip:

1. Always bring your own canvas shopping bags. Plastic bags will bring scornful looks and are a farmers market faux pas!

2. Wear sunscreen and sunglasses. This way, you can shop as long as you like and you might even have your photo taken by the paparazzi.

3. Go early and be impulsive. The professional chefs are early birds and scoop up the best stuff. Unusual produce that rarely shows up in supermarkets, like yellow raspberries and jujubes (Asian dates), will most likely be gone by 10 am.

4. Buying produce in various stages of ripeness is a good way to extend your purchases throughout the week. Ask the growers for storage tips. For example, berries should never be washed before refrigerating them, as the water left on them will burn the berries and cause them to soften and mold.

Happy foraging!

Read about Dana’s trip to the Beverly Hills Farmers Market.

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