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Keeping farmers market fresh, by Cynthia Ferris-Bennett

By Cynthia Ferris-Bennett
Grab some strawberries from a local Farmers Market and make some quick and easy refrigerator strawberry Jam
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In almost every town, large or small there is a Farmers Market. We can’t wait until Farmers Market season…why? We love them because Farmers Markets are charming; it is that lovely transition from Spring to Summer. It allows you to go outside, get some fresh air and is a refreshing alternative to superstores.

It’s an opportunity to actually meet the people growing and producing the food that you prepare for yourself, your family and friends. It is the personal connection that you may have built with a particular Farmer (or Farmers) throughout the years. Let’s take strawberries for example. You know the quality of the organic strawberries from your favorite farmer and can’t wait to get a lug or two of those fresh picked berries, most likely picked the day before or in some cases, that day. You are already planning meals around those berries before you get to the Market…Grandma’s Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry Champagne Jam, Strawberry & Feta Salad…

Farmers Markets create the personal connections and bonds between farmers, shoppers, and communities.

By being able to cut out the middleman, farmers receive more of our food dollars and shoppers receive the freshest and most flavorful food available. Another very important factor, especially during this time of COVID-19 concerns, is the handling of our food, the fewer hands touching our food the better. One of the great things about Farmers Markets is that if you have any questions about what a product is, how it was grown or where it came from you can just ask your Farmer! Farmers Markets are special in that they give the shopper transparency while also protecting the farmers from having to compete with low-cost, low-quality, and often, imported meats and produce.

Is produce from the Farmers Market better? According to the USDA, more than 85% of Farmers Market Vendors travel fewer than 50 miles to sell at a Farmers Market. In fact, more than half of the farmers travelled less than 10 miles. Compare that to most supermarkets where 7- to 14 days can go by between the time produce is picked and when it becomes available to shoppers. In that time, fruits and vegetables travel, on average, more than 1,200 miles before reaching grocery store shelves. Locally grown produce sold at the farmers market is made available at the peak of freshness and nutrient content.

What can I expect to find at a Farmers Market? That will depend on the market and the time of the year. Typically Farmers Markets carry only locally or regionally grown, locally processed foods and locally made foods and products. Guidelines for Vendors are set by each individual Market Manager and while markets may vary in selection and style the end result of a safe market for all is the goal of each and every Farmers Market Manager. This Farmers Market season, with the COVID-19 factor, you may find more rules and guidelines at your local market. The Market Managers have established these rules and guidelines with the safety of the shoppers and vendors in mind. You may not be able to sample the product as you have done in the past. You may be asked to wear a mask. You may need to point to which items you would like and then the Vendor will bag it up for you. Whatever the new guidelines are please be respectful and kind knowing that what we do makes for a safe experience for all.

Our market, The Main Street Gardnerville Farmers Market, presented by Sierra Chef, begins today at Heritage Park in Gardnerville. I know for our market we have asked the shoppers to register for a shopping time so that we can manage the number of shoppers at any given time. We are spacing vendor booths at least 10’ apart and requiring Vendors to wear masks and gloves for the safety of the shoppers. These are just a few changes we have made (visit SierraChef.com for complete rules and guidelines) and we are overwhelmed by how our shoppers have accepted and embraced these changes. I know I speak for the Market Managers when I say that we thank you and appreciate your patience, kindness and understanding in supporting your local Farmers Market.

Now, back to those strawberries…

Quick and Easy Refrigerator Strawberry Jam

Unlike other jam recipes, refrigerator jams don’t require canning equipment or techniques. The sugar and acid in the jam preserves the fruit, although refrigerator jam keeps for far less time than classic strawberry preserves – only about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. This jam will also be a bit looser than regular strawberry jam, as there is no pectin (a thickening agent commonly used in canning) involved. Adjusting the amount of sugar also will affect the looseness of the jam (more sugar equals less loose).

· 1 Quart ripe, organic strawberries, hulled and sliced

·  3⁄4 to 1 Cup raw organic sugar (or substitute regular granulated sugar), depending on the sweetness of the berries

·  2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the strawberry mixture to a rolling boil, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and mashing the strawberries. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Transfer to clean glass jars and cool. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1⁄2 pints.

Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, a Nevada native, is the owner of the Sierra Chef Culinary Center, Italian Bakery & Gourmet Market in Genoa, Nevada, which specializes in weekly cooking classes, gourmet culinary pantry & market, Italian desserts & pastries. She manages the Main Street Gardnerville Farmers Market presented by Sierra Chef on Wednesdays at Heritage Park in Gardnerville , May through September.