(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 9, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The last big crops of summer vegetables are being picked, and a few fall produce items are already appearing at the farmers' markets and roadside stands. Everything looks so fresh and good that it's easy to get carried away. Fortunately, the DG articles are loaded with ideas on what to do with all this bounty. (Click the links throughout this article for additional information and wonderful recipes.)
From May through October, our weekend routine includes a trip to the Saturday morning Maryland farmers' market off Frederick's "Golden Mile." As a bonus, it's located conveniently across from Dutch Plant Farm, one of my favorite local nurseries. The market opens at 10 am. On sunny days the parking lot is jammed with cars and pedestrians by 10:02.
The big farm stands with their heaps of fresh vegetables are first on our list. The fresh corn has been especially wonderful this year, and the corn bin is always mobbed.
We'll pick up several ears to eat for dinner (maybe we'll make Dea's fresh corn polenta), and we'll be back for more corn for the freezer. I didn't get my usual bean patch planted this year, so along with the corn we'll be buying a final round of green snap beans for soup.
Garlic planted last fall has been harvested and looks beautiful. I think I'll buy a head of each variety and compare their flavors as roasted garlic cloves, spread on crusty bread.
Heaps of colorful heirloom tomatoes vanish into shoppers' bags as I watch. I look longingly and remind myself that I have too many tomatoes ripening at home.
But you don't have to be picking your own to can some tomatoes or to cook up a batch of roasted tomato sauce. The beautiful heirloom fruits command premium prices, but damaged or unsightly tomatoes can sometimes be had at bargain prices. Imperfect tomatoes make perfectly delicious fresh salsa or bruschetta.
Green peppers have been available for a while, but the colorful ripe sweet peppers are starting to appear now, and we use them in everything.
Frying peppers to cook with sausage, bull's horn peppers to skewer for kebabs, banana peppers to cut into pretty rings for sweet pickled peppers... it's hard to have too many peppers!
Hot peppers are coming in too. The farmers' market is one of the few places where I can find red-ripe jalapeño and serrano chiles, which add rich flavor to hot sauce and other dishes.
Freshly picked cucumbers need no peeling to rid them of a waxy coating, and they just taste so much better than their grocery store counterparts. Crispy little pickling cucumbers are a delicacy I can only find at the farmers' market or in my own garden (unless the groundhog eats them).
Prices vary, but if somebody has a bumper crop of cukes to move, I know I'll be able to stock up and make a big batch of refrigerator pickles.
Summer squash and zucchini first appeared as gourmet baby squash, needing only a quick sauté. Now they're getting bigger, and I'm turning to recipes like Melody's squash casserole for the freezer. Soon, winter squash and pumpkins will be available.
It's about time to look for other fall-harvested vegetables too, from carrots and cauliflower to potatoes and cabbage for making sauerkraut.
If you end up with a miscellaneous assortment in your vegetable bin, you might try a creative mixed pickle.
The selection of fruit has been changing all summer, and it's all been wonderful, from peaches and plums to blueberries and raspberries. Apples and pears are starting to come in now, and I'm looking forward to some recipes in articles being planned for the "Apple Month" of October.
Since mid-August the melons have been coming in - and what a variety they come in, too!
In addition to red watermelon (with and without seeds),
I marvel at yellow and orange watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew, and some new-to-me types as well. With three different watermelons in my fridge, I think I might need some of Diana's creative watermelon recipes.
The farmers' market isn't just about fresh produce. A local potter brings his wares every other week, and other artisans have had booths selling photography and homemade soap.
A booth near the entrance sells baked goods and lemonade or coffee, and another vendor sells gourmet doggie treats. Cut flowers are a popular item, also.
In addition to the local dairy who supplies my buttermilk addiction, there's a friendly woman who teams up with her prize-winning goats to produce some outstanding cheese.
Fall is a great time to plant perennials, and the farmers' market can be a wonderful place to buy them. Ours has selections from several different growers. You might choose the foundation plants for a butterfly garden or build a collection of scented geraniums and other specialty herbs. On occasion, a man comes with beautiful little boxwoods in pots, reasonably priced according to size.
Plan to go to a farmers' market in your area this week. You'll be amazed at the quality and variety of products offered. Join the growing number of "locavores" who choose to eat local products, spending their money directly on food rather than on gas and transportation costs. Support your local economy, and take advantage of the bounty of the harvest season!
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.