This is the time in beautiful Ontario, Canada when road side stands selling produce, honey, baked goods, jams, jellies and even fish appear in abundance. These road side stands generally will operate for the length of the season of whatever produce they are selling. This means some will pop up for just the strawberry season (about 11 days) while others will run until late September adding produce as it becomes available. Road side stand hours are hit and miss so it is common to come across one closed during the day or only open for a short period of time during the day and evening hours. Most road side stands are family operated extensions of their larger home gardens or small farms so everything works around their life events. Some of these stands are not manned but rather produce is sold on the honour system. Of note, it is common for road side stands to specify 'so Sunday sales'.
I normally make a circular route when making a road trip to stop at specific road side stands that usually involves stops at the mushroom farm and/or orchards and farm markets. Other times I simply stop when en route to do other errands. I never leave home with the expectation that any of my favourite road side stands will be open. My experience has been that shopping the road side stands call for a different style of preparation. Here are a few things I do to prep:
- pre-planning - Spur of the moment stops to buy a small quantity of a particular fruit or vegetable for dinner doesn't really require pre-planning but road trips with the specific goal of getting larger quantities of fruits or vegetables for preserving require a bit of pre-planning. The reason being, foods being preserved need to be the freshest and highest quality possible. Timing becomes critical in that the soon the produce is processed the better. That means before buying larger quantities I need to have all the necessary supporting ingredients (eg. sugar, salt, other fruits or vegetables, vinegar, etc) and equipment (eg. canning jars, canning lids, freezer bags or containers, etc) on hand and ready to use as soon as I get back with the produce. I also need to limit my purchases to what I can comfortably process within 24 hours or less. Bringing home two hampers of green beans even if they are a bargain price is not a bargain if a good portion spoils because I can't comfortably process them.
- location - The vast majority of fruits and vegetables I purchase for processing comes from road side stands within a 25 km (16 mile) radius of our home or less. If I know we will be in another location visiting (eg. in the GTA), I do a bit of research for planned foodie stops some of which include road side stands. The stops are en route or short side trips from where we are visiting.
- timing - Produce allowed to sit in the hot sun will be lower quality than fresh picked. In general, I prefer to stop at road side stands as early in the morning as possible which usually coincides with when the produce was picked.
- bags/baskets/bins - Many road side stands are quite limited with respect to bags to cart your purchases home in. I keep a good supply of reusable bags, a couple of larger baskets and a couple of plastic grocery totes in the trunk of the car as well as a similar set-up for the truck. I often bring along a couple of empty produce hampers just in case I find a good deal on something I want to preserve.
- cold storage - Some road side stand purchases can be sensitive to heat so I have cooler/thermal bags as part of my supplies. I also bring a picnic cooler on those trips where I may be come across foods that need to be kept cold )eg. fish, cheeses, delicate berries).