What to Look for When Buying Food from a Farmer’s Market

farmer's marketFood from farmers’ markets is literally head and shoulders above supermarket produce in terms of flavor and quality, and more often than not, it’s actually a fair bit cheaper. However, if you’ve never bought food from a market before, there are a few things that you should look out for to make sure you’re getting the best food for your money.

Fish

Fresh fish is one of the greatest things about living near to a river or near to the sea – but you need to make sure that the fish is as fresh as possible. Look for glistening, shiny skin, sparkling eyes and bright colors. Fish that looks dull, non-shiny and flat in color will not be fresh and will not taste as good. Fish should also not smell of fish – if it does, it’s not going to be fresh. Fish should just smell vaguely of the sea.

Meat

When buying red meat from a farmer’s market, look for deep dark red tones, covered by a thick layer of creamy fat. If the meat is brown on the ends, ask the stall vendor to cut the end off for you – if it’s dark red inside, it’s absolutely fine to eat, but if it’s still brown inside, it’s not of the best quality. In terms of flavor, look for meat that is marbled with fat and if possible, on the bone. Meat will also cook far more quickly on the bone, as the bone conducts heat.

White meat should be a rich pink in color and it shouldn’t smell of anything. If it smells even vaguely ‘off’, take your custom elsewhere.

Vegetables

Vegetables should be firm and bright in color. That’s about the only thing you need to look for. On a farmer’s market, the product will be fresh from the ground, so it could be a little dirty, which is normal, and it could be a little bumpy and misshaped. That’s because vegetables are not supposed to grow to be a certain size or shape – supermarkets sell them that way because they look more visually appealing, but the produce itself is absolutely fine. If the vegetable is squashy in your hand rather than firm, it could a little bit on the ripe side, so it won’t last for very long and it may not have the best flavor. If in doubt, ask the seller.

Fruit

Fruit is the opposite of vegetables in that most fruits should be a little bit soft before you eat them. This doesn’t count for things like apples and pears, which shouldn’t be soft – more for fruits like raspberries, blackberries and mangoes. One great way of being able to tell if the fruit is ripe is by eating it – most stall-holders will happily let you have a taste of the produce before buying it. Fruit should also be bright in color.

Top tip: to tell if a pineapple is ripe, pull out one of the leaves from the top. If it comes out easily, it’s ripe – if it doesn’t, it’s not yet ripe.

Bread/Jars/Cheese

Most farmers’ markets will sell other produce such as bread, cheese and homemade preserves. As mentioned before, most stall-holders will be willing to give you a taste of the produce before you buy it – so ask to taste the cheese or the jam and ask if they have any bread to give out as a sample. Jarred preserves should be sealed with either a screw top or a jam lid with an elastic band. There should also be some information as to when the produce should be eaten by – if not, ask the stall-holder.