It’s hard to believe that in a few short months, chilly temps, biting wind and yes, even snow, are going to be the norm, rather than the exception. Along with the extra sweater, you should start thinking about snagging some of the now-abundant fruits and veggies now, while they’re around. Wait a few months, and you’ll have to make do with the still green, rock-hard and flavorless produce usually available at the supermarket. And as a special bonus, you’ll get to pay double or triple prices for them!
Here are some tips that should keep both your larder and pocketbook full.
*Make friends with a farmer. Not only can you often buy produce at discount rates, you may be able to earn your keep — offer to help out, in return for a bushel of apples or a bagful of tomatoes. In some cases, if you ask politely, you may be allowed to pick up leftover fruit or veggies after harvesting. (It’s called ‘gleaning,’ for those of you who never read about Ruth in the Bible.)
*Or — make friends at the farmer’s market. Get to know some of the great vendors that sell at your local market. (In our case, they start every Saturday in July, and continue through mid-September.) Not only are these hardworking people interesting — but they may cut you a discount as well. Helpful variation: if you’re buying in bulk, always ask for a discount. You have a 50/50 chance of succeeding! Or at least ask for something extra thrown in. I’ve gotten extra cucumbers, peppers and squash tossed in at the last minute, just because I was buying a 20-pound box of tomatoes for canning. It never hurts to ask, if you do it politely and with a smile.
*The late bird does get the worm. Time your visit to the fruit stand or farmer’s market in the last half-hour, especially on a weekend. They’ve got produce that won’t keep — you’ve got money and a willing smile. A half bushel of squash for $5 or so went home with me one Saturday, along with a few dozen ears of sweet corn thrown in for another $3 or so, using this method. I’ve even used similar tactics on produce clerks cleaning out the grocery store bins. The only thing…
You can eat as much as possible fresh — but sooner or later, you’re going to have to process your fruits and veggies.
I grew up in a farm household that was busy canning tomatoes and peaches on hot summer days. But I use another method my mom and grandma made good use of:freezing. It’s so easy. Got a bowlful of peaches, or a few quarts of blueberries or raspberries? Wash them, put them in ziploc-type bags, label…and toss in the freezer. That’s it! Then when you use them for crisps, pies or smoothies, be sure to use them still semi-frozen. (I don’t peel them, either — peachskin, for example, rubs right off under running lukewarm water.)
I use the wash-and-toss method for zucchini (grated), squash, greens, peppers, snow peas, celery and onion. But for staple veggies like corn and green beans, I have better success blanching them. ‘Blanching,’ by the way, is nothing more than a fancy word for cooking them a minute or two. Bring a large pan of water to boiling. Throw the corn ears or snapped green beans in and wait two minutes. Drain, run cold (or ice) water over, cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife — then into the plastic bags.
Next year, you could grow your own garden — or at least a few pots of greens or herbs on your windowsill. (Hey, maybe start some of those now for indoor use later on!) Take advantage of summer’s bounty, and you’ll be able to plan later on while savoring a bowl of golden corn chowder, or noshing on a blueberry pancake. And you won’t be overspending to do it, either.
It’s true: fresh (or fresh-prepared) does taste better.