8 ways to make the most of summer produce in Germany
One of the greatest parts about living in Germany during the summer is enjoying all of the local seasonal produce. You can buy them in stores, of course, but for agricultural products at the peak of freshness, it’s well worth it to check out farms or even your own garden. If you have the time, yard space and determination required to plant and care for one, a garden is a wonderful way to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. If you don’t, many farmers open their fields to the public at this time of year for people to come pick their own fresh produce and flowers at very reasonable prices.
As early as March, Germany’s pick-your-own flower fields come to life in a myriad of colors along the sides of country roads. The flower season begins with tulips and daffodils in the spring and lasts until early fall, when the last dahlias come on, with everything from sunflowers to gladioli in between. Signs labeled with Blumen selbst schneiden or Blumen zum Selberschneiden (cut your own flowers) invite passersby to stop and create their own unique bouquet. All the farmers ask is that you adhere to the prices listed on or by the cash boxes set up around the field and toss the correct amount of change inside – these establishments rely on the honesty of their customers.
Strawberries & Spargel
German strawberries (Erdbeeren) may be available as early as mid-May, with normal season from June to mid-July. Gathering family and friends to pick berries at a pick-your-own farm is a cheap, healthy and delicious activity. You can also pick some up from a “strawberry hut,” one of the strawberry-shaped, wooden stands run by the local farms that appears late spring. They not only carry strawberries, but usually white asparagus, or Spargel. Just note that Spargel season starts and ends a month earlier than strawberries, with about a month of overlap.
As summer continues, other types of native fruit begin to ripen, most notably cherries (Kirschen), apples (Äpfel) and pears (Birnen). While these are of course a treat on their own, you may end up with more than you can use at once if these plants grow in your yard. A great way to use extra fruit is to make fresh juice. Of course, not everyone owns a heavy-duty fruit press. Therefore, local farmers will press your fruit into juice; just bring your fruit and pay a minimal fee. These farms are often known as Mostereien as most of the farmers who own that type of equipment produce their own must.
Another great way to gain access to fresh local produce and plants is to visit your town’s weekly farmers’ market, usually held in the town square. Even small communities will generally host a market once a week.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of markets:
- Timing is everything. For the biggest selection, show up when the market opens. If you are hunting for deals, come right as it is closing, as many salespeople will mark down the prices to avoid taking items home.
- Target seasonal local items. These will be much cheaper and fresher than their imported counterparts.
- Plan ahead. You will see all sorts of agricultural products, not just fruits and vegetables. Bread, cheese, meat, honey, and plants are just some of the other items you might find. With such a big selection, you can probably save yourself a trip to the grocery store if you go to the market with meal plans in mind.
- Compare prices. Different vendors sell their wares at different prices. Consider walking around the market first before buying anything to make sure you are getting the highest quality product at the best price.
- Try something new. See something you have never tried or maybe even seen before? Be bold and get to know local specialties. The stand owners can provide you with preparation and recipe tips for the foods they offer.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to the merchants. They can offer valuable insights with regard to their wares. When else do you get the chance to ask specific questions about the produce you are buying?
- A little dirt isn’t going to kill you. Produce at farmers’ markets is usually organic (as denoted by the BIO label), so it won’t be all clean and polished like the kind you would find in stores. A bit of dirt is not nearly as harmful as pesticides or other nasty chemicals, though, and can be easily washed off.
- Bring sturdy bags and small change. The sellers usually have plastic bags, but if the handle tears off, your lovely produce will fall and become all bruised. A nice basket, canvas bag or small cart will do the trick instead. Farmers’ markets are also no place to pay with your credit/debit cards or big bills. The vendors have limited amounts of change, so try to bring coins or small bills.
If all else fails and you have no time to go get fresh organic produce yourself, try ordering a Biokiste (organic produce box) – the Germans have developed a system for those with little time for shopping but who still don’t want to miss out on the flavor or health benefits of fresh produce. You order a subscription of BIO produce, which is then delivered to your door on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You receive a shipment of different types of produce every week, based on seasonal availability and your personal preferences. Biokisten are becoming increasingly popular and are supplied by German farmers in the area.