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Fruits at the farmers market are often sweeter and juicier in August; sunshine converts carbohydrates into sugars, sweetening tomatoes, corn, and even zucchini. It's a great month for cooking at home (think barbecues and backyard picknics), it's the perfect time to gorge on all things summer.

August is also an excellent month for canning; just as fruits ripen quickly in the heat, they also decompose quickly. Another benefit: "Seconds" will be readily available at the markets (discounted and slightly bruised or overripe fruits) and super affordable. Buy a 25-pound crate of paste tomatoes and stock up for winter months! Read on for my list of the best things to buy at the farmers market in August.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes by Meredith_resized
Photo by Meredith

Tomatoes are grown in a rainbow of colors, and the flavor varies with each hue. Growers are continually creating new varieties by cross-pollinating tomatoes, so the fruits can be grown in shades of purple, green, red, orange, yellow, and deep burgundy. Red- and orange-hued fruits are typically sweeter than their yellow and green counterparts.

How to Shop for Tomatoes

Farmers markets are excellent places to discover and taste new veg varieties. There are three overarching categories for all tomatoes: slicer, cherry, and paste tomatoes. Big, fat slicers are meant for eating fresh in salads or sandwiches. Many of the "heirloom" varieties found at farmers markets are slicer tomatoes, as are beefsteak tomatoes. Shapes, colors, and flavors vary widely, but all slicing tomatoes are known for their juicy nature.

Cherry tomatoes are also meant for fresh eating. They make impeccable, bite-sized salads and range in shape from teeny round fruits to pear-shaped. Also known as grape tomatoes, these little fruits are also a great choice for roasting recipes, as they have a smaller flesh-to-skin ratio, so the flavor is amplified when their water evaporates in a hot oven.

Paste tomatoes are best for cooking and preserving. These are typically oblong and have firm, starchy flesh and little water. They are a meatier fruit and the flavor is subtly different: They aren't very tasty eaten raw but are the only tomato to use for canning or making sauces.

How to Store Tomatoes

Tomatoes flavors are more pronounced when eaten at room temperature, and chilled tomatoes are refreshing and cooling. Store either under a mesh fruit net on the counter, or pop into the fridge (which will also slow decay).

How to Enjoy Tomatoes

Tomatoes are delicious when fresh! Slice and stack on sandwiches (when is the last time you had a BLT?!) or burgers, toss into salads, or chop and fold into salsa. Fresh tomatoes have subtle, nuanced flavors and can be served simply - lightly salt, douse in olive oil and serve as a quick salad.

Cucumber, Tomato, and Red Onion Salad. Photo by Cat Lady Cyndi
Photo by Cat Lady Cyndi

When cooking with tomatoes, remember to choose a paste variety. Fresh paste tomatoes can be cubed and cooked into sauces, roasted into thin chips, or blistered and folded into scrambled eggs.

Preserve some tomatoes this summer so you're not tempted to purchase unripe, mealy tomatoes this winter. Pureed into sauces or blanched and left whole, canned tomatoes are a useful pantry staple you'll be thankful to have later in the year.




Peppers

hot - peppers
Photo by Meredith

August ushers in a wave of peppers in various shapes, sizes, and heat levels. This month, break free from grocery store bell peppers; there are far more options to explore! Peppers can be sweet with little to no spice, or they can be too hot to handle without gloves -- and everything in between. If you're not sure, ask your farmer about the heat level before buying.

For sweet peppers, try some new varieties like Cherry Bomb peppers or a thick-skinned and intensely flavored Jimmy Nardello. Heat seekers have loads of options outside of the common Jalapeno – look for fresh Cayenne or the bright-yellow Hungarian Hot Wax peppers.

How to Store Peppers

Peppers keep for several weeks in the fridge. Wrap in a single layer of linen or paper towel and keep in the crisper drawer of the fridge. This allows the peppers to breath and prevents decay from close contact with other veg.

How to Use Peppers

Peppers can be eaten fresh on a crudité platter, or sliced and kept around for snacking. Cooked, peppers will offer a piquancy to dishes that is otherwise hard to match – layer soft peppers on sandwiches or fold into morning eggs. Thick-fleshed sweet peppers break down into a velvety mass and are excellent made into sauces or pureed dips like hummus.

Chef John's Shakshuka. Photo by Baking Nana
Photo by Baking Nana

Their flavor deepens when roasted, and you will often find roasted and charred pepper recipes abound. Fire-roasted peppers that are blackened over an open flame will take on a smoky character and are excellent chopped into salsas.

Peppers also make excellent pickles, particularly the very hot peppers, as the vinegar brine can slightly dull the heat making them more palatable. At home I often blend fresh Habanero peppers with mango flesh and some vinegar, making a homemade mango hot sauce that I keep in the fridge.



Figs

Black Mission figs whole and sliced open
Black Mission Figs. Photo by Meredith
| Credit: Meredith

Few things are better than a fresh fig. They have a short season in many regions, so do yourself a favor and buy a pint when you see them. Figs are inverted flowers – the seeds are the fruit of the plant, though we eat them whole. In hot, dry regions, fig varieties are plentiful and range in color from lime green, to yellow, into a deep, chocolate brown. Black Mission figs are quite common. They have purple-brown hued skin with green stem tips. All varieties are delicious, however, and can be used interchangeably.

How to Store Figs

Figs perish quickly so are best kept refrigerated and used as soon as possible. If saving for later, figs can be dehydrated (best in a commercial-style dehydrator) or frozen whole and stored in a plastic bag.

How To Use Figs

Eat them fresh! Figs are sweet-tasting and superbly nutritious – they aid in digestion, contain generous amounts of beta-carotene, and include a handful of beneficial nutrients. Blended into smoothies or puddings, they make for an all-natural and delicious sweetener. Added to salads, they balance out bitter greens and offer sweetness that pairs well with savory ingredients.

Fig and Arugula Salad. Photo by LilSnoo
Photo by LilSnoo
| Credit: LilSnoo

Cooked, figs have a rich mouthfeel and thick texture making them an excellent choice for sweet spreads and succulent preserves. That sweetness also compliments rich food like cured meats and cheeses well.

And of course, figs are a traditional choice for desserts. Remember the line in the famous Christmas Carol "oh, bring us some figgy pudding"? From homemade cookies to sweet fillings to cakes, figs can be used in a myriad of ways.




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