Where do you do most of your shopping for fresh food? The big chain supermarkets for ‘main’ shopping? The local small one for things you forgot or ran out of? I have shopped that way for large chunks of my life, depending on how easy it was for me to get out and about. But I have always preferred to go to a farmers’ market or directly to a farm (probably because of childhood experiences), because you know the food is fresh and is unlikely to have acquired very many ‘food miles’. And you can ask questions, much more easily than in impersonal shops.
It can be a little daunting to ask questions. Nobody wants to feel foolish, but once you’ve plucked up the courage you’ll find that most people in a market are happy to share ideas. For example, when my son was an underweight baby, I was advised to give him lots of high calorie foods. He liked sweet potatoes, but buying lots of jars of baby-food sweet potatoes was getting expensive. I knew babies could eat ‘normal’ food, but I had only ever eaten sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, and then they were complicated dishes that my grandmother made. We were living in the South at the time, and I saw a mountain of sweet potatoes at the weekly farmers’ market. I was tempted, but nervous. So I screwed up my courage and asked the lady what she did with them (and told her why). She only looked surprised for a moment, and said you could do anything with them that you did with ordinary potatoes, rattling off a list of ways to cook them. I’ve never looked back.
Now, thirty years later, I’m still asking questions, like “What the heck is that?”
Celeriac? What’s that? What do you do with it? What’s it taste like? It’s a root vegetable. Cut off the ‘tentacles’, peel it (or not! but scrub very well), boil (not too long), or bake/roast, maybe mash together with potatoes and serve. The texture is more watery than potatoes and it tastes mildly like celery.
I have no hesitation in asking the staff at our local greengrocer (square footage in the shop about the size of my kitchen) about their produce. Where’s it from? Have you got anything local today? (I have a broad definition of ‘local’, depending on whether a thing can be grown nearby.) Cauliflower from the farmer down the road? Are the pears British or French? Citrus from this half of the planet or the other side of the ocean?
And I’ve inadvertently taught them a thing or two. Not long after we moved here, I was buying a bunch of beets, and they automatically started to hack off the leaves for dumping in the garbage. “Don’t do that!” They were shocked, though happy enough not to have to dispose of them themselves, and asked what I wanted them for. The leaves of beets are perfectly edible. Treat them just like spinach: tiny baby ones raw in salad; larger young leaves lightly steamed, mature leaves stir fried or chopped up in soup. In the years since then, I’ve often heard them asking customers whether or not they wanted to keep the beet greens. And sometimes explaining what they’re like. 🙂
So find your nearest market, whether it’s open daily, weekly, or monthly. Connect with other people who know and love food!