Let’s go on a shopping spree — a food shopping spree!

A stroll through a Texas farmers market this time of year reveals baskets filled with vine-ripened tomatoes, boxes overflowing with peppers, bins loaded with onions, and sturdy tables stacked full of watermelons and cantaloupes, coaxed to maturity by the hot Texas sun.

It’s hard to beat the taste and texture of locally grown, vine-ripened tomatoes. All images by Diane Morey Sitton.

It’s likely you’ll see honey for sale, with labels boasting words like “raw,” “local,” and “natural.” Texas flavors include clover, yaupon holly, and tallow, to name a few. Among the jars of locally canned green tomato relish and sweet fire pickles, you’ll probably find jams and jellies made from wild, regional fruits. East Texas folks have bragging rights to mayhaw jelly and muscadine grape jelly…it’s a much debated point as to which is more tasty when spread on a freshly baked biscuit.

Local beekeepers often peddle their wares at farmers markets.
Discovering regional specialties is part of the fun of visiting farmers markets.

In summer, you’ll find Texas-grown peaches with names like Loring, Red Globes, and Ruston Red at farmers markets and roadside produce stands. Buy a couple pounds for snacking, or take home a half bushel for canning and freezing. Blueberries, too, are plentiful in mid-summer. Whether you visit a pick-your-own farm, roadside stand, or farmers market, if you want to enjoy this seasonal treat year-round, bring the berries home, spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and freeze before packaging them in freezer bags.

Shop for blueberries at farmers markets, or visit one of the pick-your-own blueberry farms in East Texas.
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The Farmers Market Coalition estimates that the local and regional produce you find at farmers markets travels about 27 times less distance than “conventionally sourced” produce. Most of the fruits and vegetables reach customers within 24 to 48 hours after harvest … sometimes sooner.

Cherry tomatoes are versatile, flavorful, and, oh, so colorful!

But besides the flavor and nutritional benefits you get from eating the local, field-ripened fruits and veggies (not gassed, waxed, or hidden away in storage for weeks at a time), there are other perks that come from browsing the stalls of tomatoes, potatoes, and melons.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without watermelons.

For most shoppers, the opportunity to meet and talk to the growers tops the list.

These experts are eager to share their knowledge and experience. Often, you’ll glean free advice on how to cook the foods they sell. You’ll learn their gardening secrets. You’ll get advice on freezing, canning, and drying fruits and vegetables. You may even be inspired to try a new recipe or grow an heirloom variety.

Peppers grow in all sizes, shapes, and colors.

Also, when you shop the farmers market, there’s the satisfaction that comes from supporting the community by buying “local.”

For some customers, hot peppers would be a bargain at any price.

So…see you there! Bring the kids, do some shopping, and sip on a fresh-made smoothie while you visit with friends.

For more information
Visit the Texas Department of Agriculture’s online site for a listing of certified farmers markets.

Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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