The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 24, 2013

High season arrives at Four-States area farmers markets

WEBB CITY, Mo. — Tons of fresh produce are pouring into farmers markets throughout Southwest Missouri. It's high season, and that means many of the top-sellers are in abundance, along with everything from beets to zucchini. Nationwide, tomatoes and sweet corn top the list for market shoppers, and that holds true in Southwest Missouri, too.

Many local farmers markets have had a steady, if small, supply of tomatoes coming out of high tunnels since spring. High tunnels, or hoop houses, look like Quonset huts covered in clear plastic instead of metal. Inside, the crops are planted directly in the ground. A well-managed high tunnel can produce copious amounts of tomatoes, greens, peppers and other crops, and they're often picture-perfect because they are protected from the elements. Depending on the crop, they often taste as good or even better than the field versions.

But high tunnels are generally not suitable for the production of sweet corn, and there is nothing like summer heat in the field to bring out the flavor in a tomato. So now is the time of year to savor the very best of the market.

Tomatoes and corn require different storage methods to maximize their flavors. Whole uncut tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Chilling a tomato to below 55 degrees will adversely affect its flavor and texture. Once sliced, however, the tomato should be refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth. Don't fall for the myth that tomatoes should be ripened on a window sill in the sun. Instead, place not-quite-ripe tomatoes on the counter out of the sun at room temperature or slightly cooler. The warmer the temperature, the more quickly the tomato will ripen.

Sweet corn should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Leave the corn in the husks until ready to use. If the corn was not sprayed with pesticides (the farmer will be able to tell you this), you may want to peel back the top of the husks to check for corn worm damage. If you see any signs of damage, go ahead and shuck the corn and chop off the unwanted area. The sooner you eat the corn, the sweeter and more tender it will be, and tender is what early season corn is all about.

"Call me crazy, but I'm loving the corn raw," regular market customer Elaine Smith, of Neosho, says. " I cut it off the cob and put it on salads, tacos -- you name it. I think it tastes so sweet and crisp that way."

If you happen to be at your local market during a quiet time, you may very well spot a farmer or manager taking a snack break with a raw ear of corn straight off the truck. It's just that tender.


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