Autumn just might be the best time to shop at the Union Square Greenmarket. How many more reasons do you need than pumpkins, chestnuts, concord grapes, and apples? We took a stroll through the market to find out where to buy the best fruits and vegetables, how to pick them, and just which chefs you might run into along the way.
Where to Buy: Samascott Orchards at The Union Square Greenmarket, Inwood Greenmarket, Columbia Uni Greenmarket
Who buys from them: Gramercy Tavern, Craft, Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park
How to Pick them: Good apples should have no soft spots.
If you’re in the market for apples, head to the Union Square Greenmarket. According to Sandy Murzin, who trains tour guides at the Union Square Greenmarket, “The New York City markets sell over 120 varieties of apples.” And there’s no better place to buy from than Samascott Orchards at the Union Square Greenmarket. This family-run farm grows over 60 varieties of apples, including a few that never even received an official name — experimental varieties like NY428,” and “NY460.
They also grow unique varieties including Caville Blanc, Arlet, Newtown Pippin and Jake Samascott’s favorite, the Golden Russet. “With apples, there are countless varieties, and you can taste the difference, if not see it,” says Chef Peter Hoffman of Savoy and a regular at the Greenmarket.
Where to buy: Cheerful Cherry Farm Hectar, NY
Who buys from them: Doughnut Plant
How to Pick Them: Look for grapes with a dusty appearance, caused by a calcium bloom.
Where does Mark Israel of the Doughnut Plant get grapes to make his famous jelly doughnuts? From the same place you can buy yours — Cheerful Cherry Farm. Seedless grapes are only around for a couple more weeks, but Concord Grapes will be available through the beginning of November.
Where to buy: Oak Grove Plantation Pittstown, NJ, Union Square Greenmarket
Who buys from them: Mario Batali & Union Square Cafe
How to Pick Them: Look for deep-colored peppers. Another tip – dark red peppers are at the peak of their maturity and fullest flavor. And don’t dismiss peppers with cracked appearances, known as “stress cracks.” They’re found on the best tasting jalapenos you’ll find.
How many types of peppers can you think of? Probably not half of the thirty or so varieties that are for sale from Oak Grove Plantation. Peppers will be around for another month, which gives you ample opportunity to throw a kick and a little crunch into whatever you’re cooking. Farmer Ted Blew suggests poblano and ancho peppers for a hearty chile rellano.
Where to buy: Conuco Farm New Paltz, NY. Union Square Greenmarket, Tompkins Square Greenmarket, Orchard Street Greenmarket.
Who buys from them: Gramercy Tavern
How to pick them: Look for ones with stems that are “dry and woody.” These are the ones that have matured and are sweet. Unlike most fruits and vegetables, winter squash tend to get better after harvesting. They keep from four to six weeks and get more flavorful for about three weeks (especially if you keep them near a warm windowsill.)
Conuco Farm grows a wide array of unusual and hard-to-find squashes. Alongside the familiar butternut squash, you can find varieties such as Kobocha, Pink Banana, Boston Narrow and Muang. Owner Hector Tejada says his favorite is the Papaya squash, because unlike some of the other types which won’t reach their peak sweetness for a couple more weeks, the papayas are already sweet, especially after you roast them and finish them with maple syrup as Hector does. Gramercy Tavern is one of many restaurants who buys his squash, but you don’t need to be a chef to know a good squash.
Where to Buy: Van Houten Farms
Who Buys from Them: Anyone and everyone.
How to Pick Them: Look for pumpkins that are firm to the touch.
Owner James B. Van Houton favors “cheese pumpkins,” and sugar pumpkins, best for baking and pies. Mini pumpkins are great for stuffing and baking. We like the pokemon pumpkin, a yellow and white-streaked pumpkin, small in size but big in flavor.