At the Source: Summer at the NC State Farmers Market

In this series, writer, foodie and mom Addie Ladner visits local specialty markets to source great ingredients for her family meals.
Words & photography by Addie Ladner

It happens every year: In May, I start daydreaming about dinners al fresco centered around the summer’s bounty—BLTs, gazpacho, cobbler, Panzanella, pizza on the grill, ice cream—but somehow, the season flies by, and here it is almost September and we’ve spent so many weekends out of town that I haven’t even made half of them!

So now that the kids are back in school, I’m doubling down on getting to the NC State Farmers market to get the freshest, most local ingredients that I can. That’s the place that opened my eyes to just how many kinds of strawberries, squash, tomatoes and eggplant are out there. And that’s where you’ll find me, at least once a week, trying not to let the season pass without experiencing its tastes. I’ll fill my bags (and stroller) with as much fresh produce as I think my kitchen can hold, then spend the weekends simmering sauces, baking cobblers, and coming up with yet another version of Cobb or Caprese salad. Here’s what I’m picking up this week:

Powder Blue Blueberries

I’ve tested all the blueberries; now I head straight to Johnson’s Peaches for the Powder Blue variety. They have the perfect balance of sweet and sour with almost a floral hint. Buy them by the bucket for $20, $12 for a small basket, or $7 for a quart. I scoop a few cups out to freeze (don’t wash them until you want to use them) for smoothies, baked goods, yogurt with local honey, or cooked them down into a sauce on grilled pork or chicken. 

Sweet Red, Orange, and Yellow Bell Peppers

Did you know that a green bell pepper is just an unripe red, orange or yellow bell pepper? I’ve learned that it’s precisely why green bell peppers cost less (and can sometimes be harder to digest) than their more colorful counterparts. Now, in late summer, is the best time to take advantage of these peppers and their full flavor profile. They’re not always cheap, but you can make them go a long way by slicing them thin and adding to sandwiches, salads or slow-roasted in the oven for later use (hello, pizza!). 

Canary Melon 

My family prefers this bright yellow melon to both cantaloupe and honeydew. We enjoy it fresh as-is, or tossed in a simple salad with cucumbers, mint, basil, red onion and fresh mozzarella.

Green Tiger, Mediterranean, or Golden Zucchini 

Our favorite and simplest way to use zucchini is simply grated with a large cheese grater and sautéed until cooked down to a risotto like-texture. We add some fresh herbs, parmesan and a generous amount of salt and pepper for a healthy but hearty side dish.

September Red Nectarines 

Truth: a nectarine is just a peach without the fuzzy skin. But sometimes they’re hard to come by. If you’re a peach lover but turned off by the soft skin—like my kids—grab some September Red nectarines from Sugarloaf Farms. Sugar Loaf also sells firm, sweet, freestone O’Henry yellow peaches. Freestone means the pit of the peach easily comes loose when eating/cutting which is what we want so we can eat every last bit of peach!

Indigo Cherry or Sunrise Bumble Bee Heirloom Tomatoes 

We scoop these small tangy tomatoes up buffet style from Roonie Moore Farm’s (our favorite stand at the farmers market for their expansive offering of herbs, greens, eggplant and more). You can mix n’ match and curate your own pint of hand-picked tomatoes from at least ten different varieties. We love their fresh African Blue Basil (I store it in a small jar with water like a bouquet of flowers) and Grapefruit Mint also.

And before I head out, I always finish up with a baguette from La Farm Bakery, fresh fish from Locals Seafood (now is the time to stock up on shrimp!) and a ball of mozzarella or a log of goat cheese from MAE Farms (both stands in the indoor shops). My kitchen is finally set to make all the things I’ve been dreaming about for months!