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Archive for Wednesday, July 7, 1999

S COOKING AT THE MARKET

July 7, 1999

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The Farmers' Market can provide fresh, ripe produce for area tables throughout the summer and fall.

There isn't any asparagus or lettuce at the Lawrence Farmers' Market in July.

But there are peaches, blueberries and cucumbers. Corn, tomatoes and summer squash are on their way.

"It should be a good month for everything," said Mary Jo Mensie, a vendor at the market.

Shopping at the Farmers' Market can be a tasty experience. The fruit and vegetables are all farm-fresh, many of them picked that day.

There are a few things to remember, though. With the great taste of fresh produce comes a drawback -- it doesn't keep as long as something from the store. Variety also comes and goes as the season progresses. However, with proper handling and planning, this year's Farmers' Market can provide many meals.

The fruits of July

Last week, shoppers were snapping up blackberries and blueberries at the market. Floyd Ott even had apricots, and they were going quickly.

"It's been 1981 since I had any," he said.

His peaches, a real rarity, were already gone.

"This isn't apricot country; this isn't peach country," he said, but this year after a mild winter he has a good crop of both. He said he even has nectarines starting to ripen. Other vendors had onions and potatoes out for sale.

Many of the summer crops are just starting to come in. Nancy O'Connor, a nutrition educator at Community Mercantile, said that summer squash and zucchini are on their way.

"That's something we can count on for all of July," she said. "Those are here until everyone is sick of them."

Basil is also starting to crop up at the market, along with other herbs. That's not all.

"Raspberries are in season right now," O'Connor said, and the beginnings of the tomato crop are showing up on vendors' tables.

The fresher the better

O'Connor, the author of a cookbook for local produce, said the fresher the fruits and vegetables are, the better they are going to taste.

"There's even a huge difference in fresh local produce and fresh produce from the grocery store," she said.

Fruits and vegetables grown locally are allowed to ripen before they are harvested, instead of being harvested early for shipment.

They're better for you, too, said Carol Thrasher, Farmers' Market organizer.

"It's healthier because the nutrients don't have time to break down," she said.

Because the produce is so ripe, shoppers can't just stock up for a whole week or two at once, O'Connor said.

"In a perfect world, we would buy only the food we need for that day," she said.

Since the Farmers' Market is held only three days a week, O'Connor recommends that people buy only what they know they will use within a few days. She warns shoppers not to fall for the lures of all the beautiful produce spread out in front of them, ending up with a bag full of vegetables they can't use before they spoil.

"It's easy to do," she said. "Who among us hasn't done that."

A vegetable will not taste as good, she said, if it is bought Saturday and eaten Friday.

Handling

If produce has to be stored, O'Connor said, make sure it is stored correctly. Each item can require special handling -- not everything goes in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Apples should be stored in the refrigerator; melons should be stored at room temperature. If shoppers have questions about storing an item, vendors should be able to answer them.

Along with the recipes, O'Connor's book, "Rolling Prairie Cookbook," is filled with handling tips and simple preparations for almost 50 herbs, fruits and vegetables. She has a few tips for some of July's top crops -- corn, raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and summer squash.

Fresh corn should be refrigerated with its husk on. It can be cut off the cob and frozen for later use, or steamed on the cob for six to 10 minutes.

Raspberries should be handled as little as possible. They spoil quickly and should be rinsed well. They can be persevered by spreading them on a cookie sheet and freezing them. Once frozen, place them in a freezer bag and store. The best way to eat raspberries, according to O'Connor, is by themselves, soon after they are picked.

Cucumbers should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator and eaten within a few days. They can just be scrubbed, sliced and eaten. For a quick side dish, peel and seed the cucumbers and saute them in butter with fresh chopped dill.

If tomatoes are ripe, they need to be eaten soon. If they are a bit green, they will ripen at room temperature. Ripe tomatoes should be stored in the refrigerator.

Summer squash, such as zucchini, dehydrates quickly. Smaller squash are better for cooking than large ones. Squash can be steamed or sauteed. It also makes a good addition to a stir-fry.

Seasonal food

July is an abundant month at the Farmers' Market, but the market runs into November.

In August, chili peppers will start to appear at the market, along with eggplant, watermelon and cantaloupe. Plenty of squash and tomatoes still will be available. Depending on the weather, cool-weather crops will return to the market in September. Greens reappear, as well as radishes and snow peas. In October, winter squash and pumpkins roll into town, along with fall apples.

Shoppers simply have to plan meals around the season, O'Connor said.

And she encourages shoppers to occasionally take a walk on the wild side or produce.

"Be daring and, every once in awhile, buy something new that you've never tried."

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.



FARM FRESH

The Lawrence Farmers' Market, in the 1000 block of Vermont Street, is sponsored by Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Up to 85 vendors may set up shop during the season. The market is open from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays through the growing season.

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