Psst…Hey, over here…psst. Planning a visit to Hilton Head Island? Are your renting a villa or house or other abode with a kitchen for your getaway? Do you love to cook? Are you itching to match your culinary skills with the freshest of Lowcountry ingredients? Then, before you ink your menu and throw on that apron, you simply must peruse the local aisles at one of my favorite ‘grocery stores’- our terrific farmer’s markets.
From bodacious blueberries to cherub-shaped patty pan squash to organically raised eggs, locavores in the know on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton head to their respective markets for the best, in-season produce. Heck, don’t even be surprised to spot a chef from your favorite local eatery strolling the tents and jockeying for all the speckled butter peas or rosy heirloom tomatoes sold by local farmers.
There are several markets in our county (Beaufort) with one located on the Island (Hilton Head Island Farmers Market) at Honey Horn and one under the shady oaks in Old Town Bluffton (Farmers Market Bluffton). Both markets offer in-season locally grown produce as the name implies but also feature vendors who sell edible goodies such as Christine’s Catering (shrimp salad, sandwiches, lemonade), Island kettle Corn, Sawmill Creek Smokehouse (all natural beef jerky), Castra Rota Gourmet Foods (Gourmet specialties including pasta and breads), Claudine’s Creperie (sweet & savory crepes) and many more vendors offering amazing products and delicious treats.
During my excursions to the market, I always find something different and learn something new. Farmers are, obviously, the key ingredient in any farmers market and when you are able to meet them face-to-face, foods like tomatoes or beans or strawberries become more than just a commodity. I have yet to meet anyone that goes to the grocery store to connect with their neighbors, create meaningful relationships with farmers, taste produce that was picked that morning, or ask questions about where and how their food was grown or how to prepare it. For these things, people seek out farmers markets, where they can watch first-hand the power that their dollars have in nourishing local entrepreneurship and sustainable growing practices. It’s a win-win that works everyday, and while you’re on vacation too! Our farmer’s markets welcome you with open arms!
And, in case you’re not a farmer’s market regular, here are some tips to make your morning (or afternoon) at the market even more enjoyable! Plus a recipe using ingredients you’ll find at our farmer’s markets this summer.
- Bring your own bags. Sure, most of the vendors will have a plastic bag to offer, but all the experienced market goers will have their own reuseable totes. And you don’t want to look like a rookie, right?
- Bring a small cooler or insulated bag. Do you like fresh seafood? Then take advantage of this one-stop shopping opportunity and get your catch here. The seafood vendors will usually supply you with a little ice for your purchase as well. You can also keep tender fruit, greens and fresh meat cool if you bring an insulated bag.
- Get some cash. A swing by the ATM is pretty typical for my family before heading to the market. Some vendors may take credit card or check, but most will be cash only.
- Make a complete lap around before making any purchases. I’ve been known to purchase the first pretty bunch of carrots I see, only to spy better ones a few booths down. Now I know to take my time and survey all my options to see what looks best before buying.
- Talk to the vendors. I love chatting with the farmers when visiting the market. You’ll learn so much about where the products are grown, how they’re cultivated and transported to market, and they always have a great recipe or cooking preparation tip to share. The farmers (and other vendors too) love it when their customers show interest and are happy to answer your questions. These personal connections are one of the reasons that a visit to the market is so much better than a trip to a mass retail grocery store.
- Make it an excursion. If you have kids, the market can be a learning experience for them as well. The Hilton Head Farmers Market is located at Historic Honey Horn, the home of the Costal Discovery Museum – a fantastic place to spend an hour or so. And Bluffton’s market is smack dab in the middle of Old Town – chocked full of boutique shops, art galleries, cafes, and the historic Heyward House.
- Get a schedule (visit their website). Many markets offer live music or rotating booths throughout the season. If there’s a particular vendor or musical performance you don’t want to miss, this is the best way to make sure you’re there.
- Set a budget. All the food, crafts, and tasty treats can be pretty tantalizing. I usually show up with a set amount and when it’s gone, I’m all done buying. Although I’ve been known to make exceptions if I want to buy a gift or plan on buying some fresh seafood or meat. Whatever your budget, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting local businesses.
Summer Vegetable Hash
- 2 ½ cups fresh corn (about 3 large ears)
- 3 cups diced zucchini squash (about 2 large zucchini)
- 1 cup diced bell pepper (1 large)
- 2 tbl. extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
- 2 tbl. unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tsp. Penzey’s Pasta Sprinkle OR Herbs de Provence
- 1-2 tbl. light cream (half & half)
- Salt to taste
Melt butter with the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Bring the heat up and add the bell pepper, cook 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook 3 more minutes and then add the corn, cooking 2-3 more minutes. Stir again. Sprinkle with seasonings and turn down heat. Stir in the light cream just before serving. Makes 4 cups of “hash” – enough for 8 servings.