Market to Table
Harvest produce tips from the farmers market pros
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It’s difficult to catch the subtle changes of season in a place like Southern California, where our local farmers markets offer a colorful array of amazing bounty month after month after month. So we asked local foodie experts to share some ideas and recipes that celebrate September in the Southland. It’s a transitional month where the very last apricots, plums and peaches nestle next to dazzling mounds of heirloom tomatoes, typically at their peak at this time. From bestselling cookbook author and market guru Amelia Saltsman to the South Bay’s current superstar chef Michael Fiorelli, enjoy these insider tips and recipes designed to help you make the most of the season.
Here in Southern California, we’re blessed with an abundance of year-round, local produce. What do you most look forward to at the markets in September? How do you plan to use this item?
Amelia Saltsman: There are so many terrific ingredients that start showing up in early fall; it’s hard to choose just one! I’d have to go with ingredients that capture the spiced flavors of the season: persimmons, apples, pears and concord grapes.
Michael Fiorelli: I look forward to a couple of things. September is the perfect in-between season in California. If the temperature is just right, we’ll be enjoying the peak of heirloom tomatoes, the end of stone fruits and the start of grapes and figs. This for me presents the ultimate canning/jarring/preserving opportunity.
When you’re buying at the market, what do you look for in terms of quality produce? What should shoppers be alert to?
AS: The answer is the same whether you are a chef or a home cook: flavor. It takes great skill and passion to grow and harvest for flavor first, so it’s the most important and obvious clue to the quality of the produce and the quality of the farming itself. Sample where you can, and where you can’t—with raw potatoes, beets or squashes, for example—look for enticing visuals and aromas such as healthy, green leaves, glistening skins with no bruises, bright colors and the heady fragrance of healthy soil clinging to the vegetables.
Haggling at the market—is it okay, or do you find this awkward? I know when I have traveled in Asia and other places, vendors often think you’re a fool if you accept the first price they offer for an item. Is that the case here, or are prices more firm? Any bargaining tips?
MF: I never haggle. The profit margin on a lot of this produce is so low. The overhead that it takes to produce quality product is tremendous. Whatever money I spend on great produce from a farmer I know and trust is money well spent, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a win-win. I’m delivering a great product to my guests and supporting my local farmers and friends.