On Your Table: Nothing beats fresh and local

By Cathy BranciaroliFood Correspondent, The Times

Early spring greens such as Swiss chard and kale are plentiful at local farmers markets right now

All the lovely recent weather got you jazzed up for some outdoor food shopping?  A farmers market near you can’t be beat for fresh produce and chatting with food artisans.  They are open now and can be found all over Chester County with hours that suit most schedules.  A trip to one of these markets can yield nearly all that’s needed to make a spring dinner – fresh vegetables, tender herbs, salad fixings and even locally raised meat.  For good measure, pick up a loaf of just-baked bread to round off the meal. 

According to Mike Ahlert and Melissa Sann of the West Chester Growers’ Market, there’s no better time to start exploring these markets than right now.  They should know.  The market is the longest-running in the area and only food producers may sell there so that visitors are assured that what they are buying indeed comes from local sources.  Mike says that buying with the seasons is the key to getting the most from  farmers market shopping.  Melissa adds that in this way home cooks can not only make delicious meals right now but they can also freeze, store or otherwise preserve their goodies for future eating.

Here are their tips for shopping:

Try something new – Half the fun of market shopping is discovering varieties you might not have heard of before.  You’re going to see fruits and vegetables from local farmers that grocers do not stock.  When you see a new type or color, just ask about it.  During my visit to the West Chester Grower’s Market, I saw pink oyster mushrooms for the first time at the Queen Farms stand and peach/ginger goat milk yogurt at the Yellow Springs Farm stand which specializes in goat milk products such as yogurt and cheeses.

Think seasonally – Knowing what’s in season helps visitors snag the best choices for right now.  Looking for strawberries in May after an extremely cold winter will likely lead to disappointment, but in June – well that’s a different story. Right now stands are laden with cool weather greens, asparagus and rhubarb.

Strike up a conversation – farmers and sellers are happy to talk about their goods, explain their uses and offer tips or even recipes.  They will help you pick out the best variety of tomato for a sauce or select peaches most suited for pie-making.  Just ask.

Get there early – If you want the absolute freshest produce and the most selection, arrive bright and early.  That special item might easily sell out in the first hour.  I experienced this looking for fresh parsley for my Mothers Day pasta dish and had to resort to the grocery instead.  Darn.

Be prepared – bring your own bag(s), a cooler for perishables and cash to make the transactions easier.  Most sellers run cash-only stands.

The beauty of these farmers markets is that visitors can speak directly with the grower and can be confident of their growing practices such as no pesticides or GMO’s.  Having a direct connection also brings money right into local community so spend your dollars at home.

Just in case you need some more inspiration for cooking with what’s in season, try grilling fresh asparagus.  It makes a tasty side dish complimenting nearly any spring main course.

Grilled Asparagus

Take 1 bunch asparagus spears, woody ends broken off, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and your favorite seasonings.  Place on a heated grill or under a broiler in a single layer.  Grill or broil until hot, softened and a little charred, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to platter and serve hot or at room temperature.


Below is a listing of nearby Chester County markets:

Anselma Farmers and Artisans Market, Historic Mill, Route 401, Chester Springs, Wednesdays 2PM – 6PM

Artisan Exchange West Chester, 208 Carter Dr. West Chester, Saturdays 10M – 2PM

Coatesville Farmers Market Association, Gateway Park, Routes 82 & 30. Saturdays 10AM – 1PM

Downington Farmers Market, Kerr Park, Thursdays 3PM – 7PM

East Goshen Farmers Market, East Goshen Park, West Chester, Thursdays 3PM – 7PM

Kennett Square Farmers Market, Downtown Kennett Square, Fridays 2PM – 6PM

London Britain Township Market, Nichol Park, Landenberg,, Fridays 2PM – 6PM

Malvern Farmers Market, Warren Ave & Roberts St, Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

New Garden Growers Market, Near New Garden Township Park, Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

Oxford Village Market, 3rd & Locust St., Tuesdays 12:30PM – 6PM

Phoenixville Farmers Market, Under the Veterans Memorial, Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

The Farmers Market at Elverson, Livingood Park at Rt. 23, Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

West Chester Growers Market, Chestnut & Church Street, Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

West Grove Farmers Market, Harmony Park, Thursdays 2PM – 6PM

Westtown Amish Market, 1177 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, Thursday & Friday 9AM -6PM, Saturday 8AM – 4PM

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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