Many farms in the region experienced their first frost this week, which signals the end of tomatoes, peppers, and other summer veggies for the season. We may see the final harvest of these crops at farmers tailgate markets for another week or so, but it’s time to fully embrace fall. Right now we’re seeing lots of head lettuce coming back to market as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
As eggplant joins the march of summer produce available at farmers tailgate markets, our thoughts are turning to Middle Eastern meze. You can easily fill several platters with a colorful combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted squash and beets, babaganoush, hummus, tzatziki, eggs, olives, pickles, and pita for a feast. Or you could toss everything into a single pita for thoroughly satisfying sabich sandwich.
As a new flock of hens starts to lay, their first eggs are smaller, with firmer whites and more deeply colored yolks, than regular eggs. Not to be dismissed, these pullet eggs boast a richer flavor and creamier texture. For the next few weeks, these will be the only eggs available from Dry Ridge Farm at the ASAP Farmers Market. It’s a great chance to try something truly unique to farmers markets, as grocery stores stick to uniform, regulation sizes.
Bundle up! With pandemic precaution still critical, winter farmers tailgate markets are mostly staying outdoors (or partially indoors with ample airflow). Though there are fewer of these markets, you can still find a solid mix of seasonal fruits and veggies. Expect to see plenty of storage crops, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, apples, winter squash, turnips, beets, and carrots. Some farms make use of greenhouses or high tunnels to continue producing salad mixes, lettuces, and dark, leafy greens throughout the colder months. Meats, eggs, cheeses, bread, and artisan foods are also widely available.
If you’ve been hunkered down all week wondering if or when our country would erupt into violence, heading out to a farmers tailgate market might be the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. First of all, markets are outdoor environments and all that fresh air and sunlight can help clear your head. Second, even in the age of coronavirus and a divisive election, markets offer community and fellowship. Finally, and most obviously, shopping at market literally nourishes yourself and your family.
Greens and cabbages are abundant at farmers markets right now, and winter can be a great time to try new ways of serving them. Stuffing with a mixture of rice, herbs, spices, and ground meat places these vegetables front and center as a hearty main course.
It’s common for chickens to slow down their laying in January and February, meaning that eggs can rise to a new level of scarcity at winter markets. If you’re looking to score a dozen (or more), it’s best to get to market early and head straight for one of the following vendors.
We never fail to get excited about the fact that we can get locally grown rice in the Western North Carolina mountains. Lee’s One Fortune Farm has had its fall harvest available in limited quantities for the past couple of weeks at many farmers tailgate markets, including purple and brown rice varieties. The flavor of rice this fresh elevates even the simplest preparations, but Korean bibimbap is a dish that can really highlight all the best of your market haul.
There are many methods for shopping at farmers tailgate markets. There’s the make-a-list-in-advance tactic (we offer a weekly rundown here for that kind of shopper). There’s the do-a-lap-first-then-form-a-plan strategy. And then there’s the grab-everything-that-looks-good-and-figure-it-out-later approach. It’s after shopping excursions like the latter that we fully appreciate a dish like succotash.
As winter sets in and people around you fall prey to colds, flu, and other ailments, you might be thinking about ways to shore up your immune system. Besides giving you a chance to stock up on fresh, local fruits and vegetables—always a health booster—winter farmers markets are an opportunity to explore a variety of fermented foods.