Family food blogger and cookbook author, Kristin Schell, dishes on the five best farmers markets in the U.S. – including where to stay with your family when visiting and tips for soaking up the local flavors in each city.
If the kitchen table is the heart of the home, farmers markets are the culinary heart and soul of a community. Farmers have provided fresh produce to villagers and townsfolk for centuries – long before locavore, farm-to-table, and foodie vacations were in culinary vogue.
The fall harvest is one of the most anticipated and celebrated culinary seasons of the year, producing favorites like apples, pears, pumpkins, squash and mushrooms. Steeped in rich agricultural history, the word harvest comes from the Old English word hærfest meaning autumn. Today, the spirit of the harvest is alive and well in farmers markets and farm stands across America.
When our family travels, be it near or far, the first place I head is the farmers market. A Saturday morning at a farmers market is like being invited to a giant community potluck supper – rooted in local flavor and seasoned with regional fare. Armed with a tote bag, my camera and the spirit of adventure, I’ve learned more about the places we visit just by spending a morning with the locals.
When it comes to accommodations, I like staying in vacation rentals so we have a kitchen to fully enjoy the farmers market treasures I pick up along the way. No matter where we go, our family always ends up gathered in the kitchen for conversation and food, just like at home.
If you’re looking to pack up the family and hit the farmers market trail this fall, or any time of the year, here are five of my family’s all-time favorite culinary destinations – including our top picks for best markets to visit, what to buy / cook and where to stay so you can prep that amazing food you bought and soak up maximum local flavor.
292 Forest Street, Needham, MA
Just minutes from downtown Boston is one of the region’s oldest farmstands. Family owned and operated since 1917, the Volante Family grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on their working farm in Needham. Volante Farms works in partnership with growers throughout the region to offer local produce year-round.
Local Flavor. What’s picking? Apples, of course. Volante Farms prides itself on having the most extensive selection of apples available in New England, including the Northern Spy apples, which were the most used of any variety in the 2012 Volante Farms Apple Pie contest.
These tasty apples make delicious desserts. For more information about the annual Apple Pie Contest and the winning recipe click here.
Cook Like Locals. In addition to apples, pumpkins are the pick of the season in Boston. Try making Pumpkin Bread or Pumpkin Pancakes with recipes from former Boston Globe food columnist, Julie Riven. Julie is also co-author of the popular cookbook, The Way We Cook.
Where to Stay.
- Downtown: This spacious townhome is located on one of the most desired streets in Boston’s South End, just steps away from shopping, restaurants,parks and museums.
- Beacon Hill: Located in one of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, this luxurious apartment is in a full service high-rise building and is great for smaller families looking to stay in style.
225 7th Street SE, Washington, DC
Open Tuesday through Sunday (Closed Mondays)
Located in the heart of Capitol Hill, Eastern Market is DC’s beloved food and cultural destination. South Hall Market is home to a culinary melting pot of merchants selling an array of meats, poultry, seafood, flowers and cheeses. The indoor venue bustles with activity and features many family-run businesses who have been part of the Eastern Market community for decades. On weekends, Eastern Market overflows with tents and open- air booths featuring work from local artists, handmade crafts and antique vendors. Local farmers sell fresh-picked, seasonal produce. The diversity of offerings reflects our nation’s rich cultural heritage.
Local Flavor. Owned by American family farmers, the award-winning Founding Farmers restaurantoffers a very authentic dining experience. Located just blocks from the White House, diners cozy up at community farm tables for a great meal inspired by the farmer’s harvest. Seasonal eating never tasted so good.
Cook Like Locals. Apples and rutabaga are plentiful this time of year in DC. Wondering what to do with rutabaga? Pair it with apples for Chef Patrick O’Connell’s Apple Rutabaga Soup recipe. The culinary legend is the Chef/Proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington located seventy-five miles west of the District of Columbia in the historic town of Washington, Virginia.
Where to Stay.
- Capitol Hill: Just five blocks from Eastern Market, this historic brownstone has beautiful exposed brick walls, an outdoor deck, an open chef’s kitchen, and is only a twenty-minute walk to the U.S. Capitol.
- DuPont Circle: Located on coveted, Embassy Row in the heart of Kalorama, this beautiful home is surrounded by the Embassies and mansions in Washington, DC and features a gorgeous designer kitchen.
Marion Square, 329 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina
Open Saturdays (April – December)
An award-winning farmers market, this Charleston treasure represents the true flavor of
America’s Lowcountry. Overflowing with the region’s best produce and beaming with Southern hospitality, a stroll through Marion Square on a Saturday morning is a slice of heaven.
Local Flavor. For an authentic, farm-fresh lunch or supper, a visit to Slightly North of Broad is a Charleston favorite. The eclectic Lowcountry bistro celebrates local flavors and serves up southern comfort fare at its finest. The Grilled South Carolina Peach Salad is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Cook Like Locals. Seafood is always a top choice at the market. In fact, if you poll the Charleston locals, they will tell you the must-have dish in town is shrimp & grits. Try The Ultimate Charleston Shrimp & Grits recipe by local culinary heroes Matt and Ted Lee. You can also pick up their cookbook The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen.
Where to Stay.
- French Quarter: Soak up some culture in this French Quarter rental, which happens to be nestled within a 6,000 square foot art gallery in one of the oldest buildings in Charleston – a historically marked structure from 1670.
- Wild Dunes Island Resort: Located on the Isle of Palms and just 25 minutes from historic downtown Charleston, this “treehouse” style villa provides good back for your buck, including lots space, gated access, a community pool and access to the beach.
1607 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Open Saturdays and Tuesdays year round
New Mexico’s largest farmers market and one of the most prominent markets in the United States, a trip to Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without sampling the region’s distinct dishes. Celebrate local flavors unique to the southwest region including pinon nuts, squash blossoms and the famous New Mexico peppers and chiles.
Local Flavor. Café Pasqual’s is a farm-to-table hot spot in downtown Santa Fe. Dining at Café Pasqual’s is like being in a good friend’s kitchen - each meal is exquisitely prepared and presented featuring local, organic produce. While the menu changes regularly according to produce availability, the Lonche Quesadillas are a menu staple and a family favorite.
Cook Like Locals. With dozens of varieties of chiles to choose from, take your pick and make a spicy red or green chile sauce to go with Mexican chorizo burritos. The Café Pasqual Cookbook, written by chef and owner Katharine Kagel, is a primer on New Mexican cuisine and provides the ins-and-outs of cooking with red and green chiles.
Where to Stay.
- Historic Eastside: Less than 1.3 miles from Museum Hill, this casita provides an authentic Santa Fe feel but with modern conveniences, including a ramada-covered outdoor dining area, four outdoor lounging areas and an extensive garden area with apple, apricot, peach and plum trees.
- Casa del Oso: Perfect if traveling with extended family or friends, this 3,2000 sqaure foot home sleeps eight, is only minutes from the Santa Fe Plaza and provides gorgeous mountain views with luxurious touches including heated floors.
85 Pike Street, Seattle, Washington
Open Daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day)
Consistently rated one of the top farmers markets in America, Pike Place Market is a Seattle icon.
Founded over a century ago, more than 80 Washington farmers offer produce at the nine-acre market in downtown Seattle. A stroll through the stalls provides a lively, gastronomic adventure. Seattle is a booming seaport and taking advantage of the fresh fish and seafood at the market is a must. Even if you don’t take home the catch of the day, talk to the fishmonger who will be happy to offer a quick education on silver salmon, chinook, halibut and Dungeness.
Local Flavor. Located across the street from the main entrance to Pike Place Market, Beecher’s is a perfect spot for a café lunch. The legendary cheese shop is home to the “world’s best” mac & cheese. Beecher’s also features delicious handcrafted grilled cheese sandwiches. If you need a jolt of caffeine to keep foraging all the local produce, the original Starbucks is next door.
Cook Like Locals. Award-winning chef Tom Douglas helped put Seattle on the culinary map by offering outstanding world cuisine made with the finest of local ingredients. A leader in the sustainable food movement and champion of eating local, Douglas’ recipes are quintessential Seattle. Try his Whole Salmon on the Grill Stuffed with Sea Salt, Lemon and Onion for a Seattle tradition.
Where to Stay.
- Magnolia Neighborhood: Just northwest of downtown, this modern home provides lots of space for a big family, gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier, and an all-Viking gourmet kitchen to put the day’s treasures scored at Pike Place Market to good use.
- Queen Anne: Nestled in the quiet, exclusive Queen Anne neighborhood, this two-bedroom condo is within walking distance of downtown and gourmet markets and provides views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.