Spring and summer: every locavore’s dream. The fresh produce is abundant, the options in the kitchen are endless, and all the colors and smells are so great that you almost forget about the scorching hot sun.
So I started to think about all the different farmers markets and what I had heard about each one–the tips and tricks for stocking your fridge and pantry with local eats. After the jump, you can find out what DC eaters and chefs have to say about some of our local farmers markets. You can follow my Twitter list of DC-area farmers markets and some of the vendors and give me a holler if there are any I missed adding to the list. And feel free to share any of your farmers market tips in the comments section.
A big hat tip to Cathy of Mrs. Wheelbarrow who sparked the idea.
Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow says: “”The Central Farm Markets, in Rockville on Saturday and Bethesda on Sunday, are my favorite farmers markets to visit. The breadth of choices is vast, mostly because the farmers come from the Northern Neck, South Central Pennsylvania, and the Eastern Shore, meaning there’s an enormous variety available each week. And MeatCrafters definitely has the best offerings in the world of charcuterie and sausages, if you’re not making your own. Vern’s fresh fish truck is exceptional, with restaurant-worthy fish, cut to order. The Upper Crust breads and baked goods are superb, and if a trip to Georgetown for truly French pastries isn’t in order, Patisserie Poupon is on site every Sunday morning, right next to Zeke’s coffee. On Saturdays, don’t miss the breakfast pizza!”
Other Maryland farmers markets include:
DC Farmers Markets:
Chef John Critchley of Urbana says: “1. If there’s a line at a particular vendor, there’s good reason for it…most vegetables and plants take weeks or months to grow, so you can wait an extra five minutes for top quality ingredients. 2. Go early…in the interest of not spoiling their harvest, most vendors only bring what they know they will sell. 3. Do try all the free samples as it’s fun and filling. 4. Don’t beg for free samples, as it’s annoying and puts vendors in an uncomfortable position (plus, it comes off as if you are just grazing and not interested in buying). 5. Do pick an ingredient you’ve never seen or used and ask for advice on cooking/preparing it.”
Chef Anthony Lombardo of 1789 says: “1. Show up early for the best choice of food-or-show up late toward the end for the best price of food by bartering in prices for the stuff that they have left. Farmers don’t want to take anything back, they want to leave the market with an empty truck. 2. I like to cook pasta and salad on Sunday, so I make sure to just pick enough veggies for one pot of pasta so I have 0f leftovers. Because it will just sit in my fridge. 3. Don’t impulse buy because the retail prices are outrageous. A market trip for me is not about buying food for the restaurant; I have farmers that will deliver to me throughout the week. The purpose of the farmers market for me is to get inspired by seeing ingredients and knowing what’s coming out of the ground, becoming more familiar with seasonality. For example, kale and carrots are considered a winter veggie but have a strong presence in any market because they are always coming out of the ground.”
Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris says: “Dupont circle is the most lush of all of the markets – go early when the stalls are full and the colors of the season are brilliant.
Chef Tiffany MacIsaac of Neighborhood Restaurant Group says: “Kyle (author’s note: that’s her husband and executive chef at Birch & Barley, in case you didn’t know) and I love Garner’s Produce! Their tomatoes, corn and melons are the BEST. But besides all the produce being top notch this time of year, they offer tomato seconds, by the 25-pound case, for really cheap. Seconds are tomatoes (or other produce) that might be slightly over ripe, odd shaped or colored. They are still delicious, a great deal & perfect for canning. We buy 8-10 cases each summer and can them so we have summer tomatoes for pasta sauces all winter.
Another tip is to plan ahead for big project. For example, rather than waking up at the crack of dawn to make sure you get to the market early enough to get all the strawberries you need for jam, you want to pre-order a flat of fruit from your favorite vendor. Then you can enjoy a leisurely morning and know you will still get all the fruit you need. If you buy enough you may even luck out and get a little discount.
But the most important thing you can do is really get to know your farmers. Trust us, there are always special things they have in limited quantities, like wine berries or wild blueberries, and if you are their friend chances are they’ll offer it to you first!”
Chef Brian Arnoff of CapMacDC says: “Cherry Glenn Goat Cheese has a stand there. As most foodies in DC know, their products are amazing. I’d say the best local goat cheese, and if you buy it from the farmers market it’s almost half the price of getting from Whole Foods. All their items items range from $6-$8. In particular, I love their soft-ripened “Ash” goat cheese.
General advice: Go to farmers market with an open mind–this will allow you to experience a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Always talk to farmer or farm stand operator about what they think is the best produce of the week.”
Chef Allison Sosna says: “I love the cherries that end up at the Mt. Pleasant market, always nice colors and they are best this time of year. Always pick cherries that are firm but give a little when touched with plump, shiny skins and green stems and avoid those that are mushy, dull, or have spots. If I can’t finish the bag of cherries I get at the market what we usually do at home is depit them and make a jam with a touch of lemon juice and salt. Great cherries won’t need sugar to make a compote or jam. I then usually serve it with a cheese and bread or a good old pork loin.”
Dean Gold, Owner of Dino says: “I am a big fan of Truck Patch Farms in Mount Pleasant (they also do Bloomingdale, I believe). Their specialty as far as I am concerned is their pork. These are just pigs that are pigs. No confinement, outdoor, free running and they eat what the farm grows and can’t sell. Bryan has four breeds in production with Mangalista on the way. His pigs are Berkshire, Old Spot, Duroc and China Polled white. We buy his pork pretty much exclusively now. The quality is the best I have seen! There are other pig farmers much more famous, but his stuff tastes the best. He also grows great tomatoes & squash.”
Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris says: “Smaller markets like Rose Park and Foggy Bottom often have some smaller unique vendors that aren’t at every market. Some good stuff.”
Author’s note: “Snag a cold treat from Pleasant Pops at this market. I had a honey lavender pop last year that I still have cravings for.”
Chef Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck says: “Eat a Red Apron hot dog (or two) with some Gordy’s Pickles and wash it down with seasonal lemonade. Then treat yourself to Dolcezza gelato (any flavor, all are bad ass).
Great thing about farmers markets in general is that they only offer what’s in season. Right now peppers are all over the place.
It’s also a good place to get brownie points with your significant other. I usually buy mine flowers.”
Tom Bridge of We Love DC says: “Nathan Anda’s Red Apron Butchery is often found at the White House Farmers’ Market, and his excellent charcuterie is approachable and delicious. My personal favorite is his incredible pastrami, but his locally-sourced half-smokes are also pretty amazing.”
Tom Bridge of We Love DC says: “This is the little market that could. Though there are only about a dozen or so stalls, this market delivers in spades. Last winter, I picked up a whole lamb from one of their organic butcher stands, as well as everything else needed to make an incredible feast. Don’t miss their seedling sales throughout the market season, some of them use incredible imported strains that you can’t get anywhere else. I’m growing some amazing heirloom tomatoes and some Italian zucchini this year from seedlings they sold me.”
Chef Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s says: “1. Atwater’s has the best cheddar biscuits ever! Get there early if you want to try them – or any of the bread – as they tend to sell out. 2. A lot of the meat for purchase is frozen, so plan accordingly. 3. The produce from any stand is amazing, but talk to the farmers and staff about the food – it’s the best part. There is one guy you can’t miss: the curly haired young guy at the Full Cellar stand…he’s the “Ron Slater” of the market. He gets so excited about what you are going to do with the food and loves to offer up advice in his unique animated way. I wound up buying squash blossoms from him, which I plan to cook up with a local dry-aged ribeye and some horseradish sauce.”
Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris says: “Georgetown market on Wisconsin and 34th has the best community feel of all.”
Author’s note: “The Glover Park market has a rotating schedule of different food trucks if you need a bite to eat and don’t want to start snacking on your produce.”
Other DC markets include:
Don Whiteside of We Love DC says: “Ballston has a vendor there that comes in from Kent Island, a distance & crappy drive that deserves some respect, to sell all things blue crab. Their crab cakes are a hint on the pricey side at $20, given their size, but look good. Their crab soup is the thing to buy from them; tasty, a good quantity of crab, and with veggies that haven’t been cooked till they’re almost as soft as the tomato base. They say they’ll be opening a restaurant later this year and we’ll give it a try next time we’re on our way to the Eastern Shore.”
Summer hours, Saturdays, 8 AM to 12 PM
Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris says: “Court House market in Arlington has lots of plants and has Westmoreland Berry Farm for amazing blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black raspberries all in their season
I use only Blue Ridge Dairy yogurt and ricotta at the restaurant. They are at most markets. Definitely at Penn Quarter Thursday, Dupont Sunday, Court House Saturday.”
Other Virginia markets include:
General Farmers Market Tips:
Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris says: “Definitely talk to the farmers about their produce. They know things like which apples are best for sauce, for baking, for eating, etc. Find out what is in the field for next week – that’s how I plan my menus.
Ask farmers if they have any seconds. Often they have not so perfect tomatoes or peaches or apples that can not bring in top retail dollar and sell them for a reduced price. Great for over ripe tomatoes for gazpacho or sauce in the summer.
Find farmers that you like and be loyal to them. Get to know them. It is wonderful to know who grows your food. I love it!
Buy just what you need. Sometime it is overwhelming how much there is. And you want to buy everything. I know I do. But it goes to waste….
Flowers are amazing at the markets. It is a treat to have fresh flowers in your home or on your desk.”
Readers: have any of your own farmer’s market tips or anecdotes? Share them in the comments section.