By Brad Jones
Living in a warm climate like Baton Rouge has its advantages. One of which being we can get fresh fruits and vegetables year round. It can be hard, as we move into the fall harvest season, to choose the fruits and vegetables that are fresh and seasonal. At this time of year, most of what you see at the market is going to look fresh, but there are a few items that you should be on the look out for with maximum flavor and freshness.
Let’s start with seasonal fruits. We are coming to the tail end of the fig season, but figs should still be plentiful and extremely tasty through September. Look for figs that are relatively firm, but not hard. You should be able to pick them up by the stem without them falling off. Make sure to use or preserve them quickly, as they spoil easily. Another great fruit right now is the grape. Grapes should be firm and wrinkle free.
For vegetables, now is the time to start looking for winter squash to start making an appearance at the market. Most people are buying your typical yellow squash, but be on the look out for some of your more unusual varieties, which can have more flavor. Look for spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and small buttercup squash. If you see any of the bright orange squash blossom flowers, try battering and frying them at home. Also be on the look out for the beginning of the pumpkin season.
Look for squash and pumpkins with deep coloring and feel that the outside is hard and free from bruises and cracks. Avoid squash and pumpkins that have waxy skins, as they might not be quite ripe. A good squash or pumpkin will be heavy for its size and sound hollow when you tap it. A fresh squash or pumpkin can often last several weeks when stored in a cool, dry place.
As the cooler weather starts to set in, we are reaching the end of the tomato and pepper season. You should still be able to find fresh tomatoes and peppers at the market through September. Look for heirloom varieties of tomatoes, and now is also the time to find cherry or grape tomatoes. For peppers, look for firm and colorful. If you are a hot sauce fanatic, now is the time to get peppers for making your own hot sauces.
The best advice I’ve found for finding fresh and seasonal items is to talk with your local growers. While at the market, ask questions at the booth and find out what the farmer thinks might be best. Many booths might even give you a sample to try or point you in the right direction. If you are having a hard time figuring out how to use an ingredient, they are also a great source for coming up with new recipes.
The largest farmer’s market in Baton Rouge is the Red Stick Farmer’s Market, which opens at the Main Street Market on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. They can also be found, weather permitting, on Thursdays at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center 8 a.m.-
12 p.m. Outside of growing it yourself, this is your best bet for finding fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients in Baton Rouge. If you find unique ways to use fresh fall ingredients, we would love to hear from you here at DIG. Send us photos or recipes from what you’ve made on Twitter and Instagram using #IDigBR.