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Fresh at Farmers Markets This Week

okra, peppers, eggplant

This time of year marks a sweet spot where summer devolves into fall and we get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Fall officially kicks off next week, ushering in cool mornings, community campfires, and fall food staples like sweet potatoes, squashes, apples, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, and leafy greens. While we eagerly await these arrivals and jump at the chance to get some early fall harvests, we are also tending to preserving the last of the summer crops of which there are still plenty at market.

Over the next couple of months, a wide variety of sweet potatoes will work their way into area markets. These beloved tubers arrive in waves because they need to cure after they’re harvested. Curing builds up their skin to make them keep in storage longer, and it allows for the starch to convert to sugars making them sweeter. Curing involves keeping the sweet potatoes in a warm and humid environment for multiple weeks. Farmers do this before bringing their sweet potatoes to market so that shoppers don’t have to worry about it.

In the meantime, preserving the last of our summer bounty has our kitchens bustling. From pickling and canning, dehydrating and oven-roasting, or freezing for a fast fix, preserving makes your market hull go further and keeps you enjoying local produce year-round. Some of our favorite summer fruits and vegetables that are still plentiful at market and make great candidates for various preservation methods are tomatoes, corn, beets, summer squash, peaches, nectarines, figs, apples, pears, and okra.

We just picked up a delicious technique for preserving okra seeds – pickling for a luscious okra caviar. Around this time of year, okra pods may become overgrown and fibrous, no longer desirable for traditional fresh cooking methods. However, this creates the ripe opportunity for pickling the seeds in a mix of water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and mustard seeds. For a quick addition to dinner, start by boiling a pot of water with mustard seeds for 2 minutes and then strain. In another pot, mix vinegar, water, and spices and bring to a boil. Then, add the okra seeds and mustard seeds, simmering until the brine has thickened slightly. Check seeds for tenderness and cook until they have the firm texture of caviar. Let cool and serve. For a traditional slow-pickling method, mix all of the ingredients in air-tight containers and let sit for a few weeks until the okra seeds reach the desired texture. Sprinkle on to any dish, especially as a garnish for your favorite fish, or serve on fresh bread or croutons for a crowd-pleasing appetizer.

Ask your market farmers about their preferred preservation techniques and favorite recipes! At farmers markets now you’ll also find tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, beans, summer and winter squash, apples, pears, leafy greens, mushrooms, and much more. Markets are also stocked with farm-fresh eggs, cheese, bread, pastries, drinks, and prepared foods. There are more than 100 farmers tailgate markets throughout the Appalachian Grown region. Find them, as well as farms and other local food businesses, in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide.

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