Make the most of local produce

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Bonnie and Rudy Geber of Hoot Owl Farm sell produce at the Libby Farmers Market on May 24, 2018. (John Blodgett/The Western News file photo)

(StatePoint) — Fresh, local produce is in its prime, making now the perfect time to take part in the farm-to-table movement. Whether you join a community supported agriculture (CSA) group or shop at your local farmers’ market, it’s easy to taste the elevated flavor profile of just-picked fruits and veggies.

Make the most of the season with these tips.

Plan, Prioritize, Prepare

Plan what produce you will purchase ahead of time. Many farmers’ markets and CSAs distribute eNewsletters or flyers that highlight what’s available. You can also search for seasonality charts in your region to get an idea of what items are at their peak, and plan accordingly.

Once you’ve shopped, prioritize your goods. Use tender greens and any ripe fruits and veggies right away. Roots, bulbs and squash tend to last longer and can be saved for later in the week.

Next, properly store produce to help to extend its life. If fridge space is limited, consider cooking down greens by either partially boiling or sautéing prior to putting them away, depending on what recipes you’ve selected for those items.

Smoothies, Sauces, Soups

Smoothies are a delicious, easy way to pack a lot of produce and nutrition into a meal. And if you’re processing the toughest whole foods, like dark, leafy greens, be sure to use a high-powered blender such as the Ascent Series A3500, which offers five program settings, including one for smoothies. A recipe for the “Everything Smoothie,” which incorporates a wide variety of produce found at your farmers’ market, is available at vitamix.com.

Take advantage of tomato season, preparing pasta sauces to enjoy now or freeze for those months when they aren’t readily available from local growers. Try adding red and green bell peppers to boost the nutritional value of a veggie Bolognese.

Soups make use of veggies now and later. Warm weather calls for cool concoctions like gazpacho or cucumber dill soup. A cabbage soup that combines hearty potatoes, onions and carrots can be made for cool fall nights or stored in your freezer for winter.

Use it Up

Remember that nearly all parts of produce are usable. Vegetables like beets, carrots, kohlrabi and turnips have edible greens that make an excellent addition to morning smoothies or a nutrient-rich stir-fry. Compost any remaining scraps.

Don’t be afraid of bruises or dents. Greens with slightly wilted leaves can be blended with a bit of water and frozen in ice cube trays for future use in soups or smoothies. If you see a great deal on fruit like strawberries or cherries, buy them and combine with sugar and pectin for an easy freezer jam, or dry them for on-the-go snacks.

Shopping for whole foods at farmers’ markets or joining a CSA is an opportunity to help local farmers and explore your culinary interests. The availability of fruits and vegetables ebbs and flows; capture each at its peak to enjoy the bounty throughout the year.

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