By Himanee Gupta-Carlson & Madeline McCarthy
The escarole sat crisply in my display bin at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market. It caught the eye of a customer.
I greeted him, and he asked, “Is this lettuce?” As he did so, his fingers wrapped impulsively around the leaves, cradling them.
“Please,” I said. “Can I ask you not to touch?”
The customer felt bad. I did, too. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues we all are adapting to new practices of interacting with each other and the fresh foods at the market. Asking customers not to touch products until they have committed to buying them now is among the Saratoga market’s safety rules.
As we celebrate National Farmers Market Week this week, we also highlight how not touching fresh fruits and vegetables minimizes damage while also easing the risk of Coronavirus spread. In addition, the food remains safe and healthy with the farmers being the only ones touching the produce prior to purchase.
But how does one buy without touching?
Jason Heitman of Green Jeans Market Farm helps customers choose tomatoes by asking them what sizes they prefer and when they plan to eat them. He checks the bottoms of tomatoes to gauge their ripeness, noting that not fully ripened fruits will continue to ripen until consumed.
Brian Talmadge of Talmadge Farm encourages customers to choose beans that look wrinkle-free and shine. Cucumbers, he says, also have a shine.
Charles Holub of Scotch Ridge Farm brings handpicked berries to market that have attained enough sweetness to be eaten immediately or frozen for later use.
Such greens as lettuce, kale, and escarole are harvested one or two days before market so they can be washed and cooled for maximum crispness. They might wilt during a market from exposure to sun and wind but will rebound when rinsed in cold water. If stored in a produce bag in the refrigerator, they’ll remain fresh for up to a week.
I explained to my customer who mistook escarole for lettuce that it was a green from the chicory family and often used to make Beans and Greens. I also noted that it, like many other greens, was delicious sautéed with a bit of olive oil, black pepper, and garlic.
He bought the escarole and, like many others, thanked us for keeping the farmers market safe.
This week’s recipe: Spinach Salad with Peaches and Beets