Category Archives: Lindsay

How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Although the first day of Autumn is not until September 23, it’s hard to not anticipate its crisp arrival. I’ve recently found myself caught in the humid fall afternoons dreaming of the crunch of fallen leaves, chilly, foggy mornings, and brisk air that pierces your lungs with a delightful sharpness. Pumpkin beers are already making their way into bars and evenings have been cooling off much more quickly. Worry not, everyone, we are getting closer and closer to the most glorious of all the seasons that is slowly ushered in by the ripening apple trees every year. So with your first bite of a seasonal apple you can allow yourself to get excited for the yellows, oranges, and reds that will begin to decorate our neighborhoods and beautiful North Carolina landscape.

Coston Farm in Hendersonville, NC is a fourth generation family farm that specializes in apples. They grow 20 different kinds of apples and the season spans from August 10 until the last week of October. If you find yourself up in the High Country to see the leaves change and to celebrate fall’s arrival, you can stop by Coston Farm to pick apples and continue the festivities. Otherwise, they can arrive at your front door in your Papa Spud’s box! The first apples of the year are Golden Crisp and Gala Apples, and by the end of this week Honey Crisps (my personal favorite) will be available. Then come Fuji, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious in September. Finally in October come Shizuko, King Luscious, and the season ends with the beautiful Pink Ladies. This is, of course, an abbreviated list of the amazing flavor profile that is headed our way. To see the Coston’s Apple Ripening Calendar, or any pictures, recipes, or apple information, just check out their website.

Apple background

I spoke with Lola Coston on the phone who imparted a little bit of knowledge for us—if you’re making a pie the best apples to use would be Honey Crisp, Shizuko, Mutsu, or Granny Smith; a cobbler calls for Golden Delicious apples. Lola’s favorite kind of apple is the Shizuko apple, it’s a yellow apple that is both sweet and tart and will be ready in October. It’s a crispy eating apple as well as great for baking. So bring on the apple pies, turnovers, crisps, sauce, muffins, breads, and, of course, cider! Don’t forget how easy it is to store apples in different forms for the rest of the year. To freeze apples simply peel, slice, and core the apple–if you don’t want it to brown you can brush the apple slices with diluted lemon juice. Lay the apples out on a baking sheet making sure that none of them are touching and freeze. Once the apples are frozen, consolidate in a plastic bag or Tupperware and keep in the freezer!

Along with being delicious and grown locally, apples are pretty amazing fruits. Here are a few apple facts that I found interesting:
-Apples are part of the rose family, similar to pears and plums
-If you have produce that is unripe, just throw it in a bag with an apple and it will ripen more quickly because of the amount of ethylene that apples give off
-Apple trees can live for over 100 years
-The crabapple is the only type of apple native to the US.
-Apples are full of soluble fiber, which is good for digestion, as well as Vitamin C for your immune system
-The antioxidants found in apples help to prevent coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease
-Eating an apple before you work out may increase your endurance.

As you’re enjoying your apples this season and bettering your health by doing so, you can save your apple scraps to make apple cider vinegar (which is also incredibly good for digestion). This super simple recipe explains just how to make homemade apple cider vinegar so you no longer have to buy it from the store!

Ingredients

  • Cores and peels from 6-8 apples (ideally organic)
  • 2 tbs. honey
  • Water to cover

Instructions

  1. After you use the apples to make a wonderful apple treat (such asapple pie bread), place the cores and peels in a large, wide-mouthed jar. I use a 4-cup jar, but you can adjust the size of the jar to the amount of apple scraps you’re using.
  2. Cover the scraps with water and stir in the honey.
  3. Place a paper towel on top of the jar, and secure it with a band.
  4. Let the mixture soak for 2 weeks, and then strain out the liquid. Discard the solids.
  5. Return the liquid to the jar and cover it again with a paper towel and band. Leave it for 4 more weeks, stirring daily.
  6. Taste it and see if it has the acidity you would like. If it does, transfer it to a covered bottle for storage. If not, leave it in the wide-mouthed jar for a little while longer, checking every few days.

Now that you’re armed with all of these apple facts and apple ideas, I wish you a very apple-filled autumn.

The Road to a Healthy Life Through Fields of Spicy Peppers

Hot peppers are both wildly abundant this time of year and ferociously good for you in myriad ways. You’ve heard the old saying when you have a cold that you just need to “sweat it out”, or maybe when your sinuses are feeling congested you’ve gone for a spicy meal. It turns out there is truth behind that idea. The heat that can be both incredibly painful if you’re not used to it as well as somewhat addicting as you build tolerance is called capsaicin. Capsaicin is commonly used today to flavor foods and in dietary cleanses but Native Americans have been using it for 9,000 years for many different health reasons including relieving joint and muscle pain, lowering blood sugar, improving circulation, boosting metabolism, fighting colds and sinus infections, and aiding digestion. It is high in beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A by the body for immune function as well as Vitamin C, an antioxidant. There are many home remedies you can make using hot peppers for illnesses. If you have a sore throat, simply mix a dash of cayenne into a glass of lemon water to break up mucous and relieve pain.  Of course it’s always important to be careful when handling hot peppers, wearing gloves if the pepper is very hot, never touching your eyes or your face before washing your hands several times. Now is the perfect time to try all those different pepper varieties you’ve never had before, just be sure to slowly work up your tolerance before even looking at a ghost pepper.

The most difficult part of buying hot peppers for me is finding interesting ways to use them. The Pioneer Woman is a blogger who posts about simple living. She wrote an article about roasting green chilies to showcase the amazing flavor that can be drawn from a hot pepper. Roasting a pepper creates a smoky flavor that highlights the spice in a pepper without being overwhelming. In this method you simply line a baking sheet with foil, put the peppers on it, and broil them in the oven. When one side becomes black and charred, flip the peppers over and allow the other side to char as well. This whole process should only take about 15 minutes. Then remove them from the oven and place in a plastic ziploc bag for 20 minutes so they steam further. Finally, pull them out and peel the charred skin off the top. There will still be dark spots on the pepper after this, which is where all the flavor is. Once peeled, you can cut the peppers open and remove the seeds.

roasted chilies 2

roasted chilies 1

 

 

 

 

 

I used anaheim peppers, which I did not realize are as spicy as they are, but they roasted beautifully. I decided to make nachos with guacamole, tomatoes, and cheese, which turned out to be the perfect balance for the smoky pepper flavor, and the cheese cut the spice perfectly (I’m a little bit of a spicy food wimp). If you are sensitive to heat I would recommend poblanos, which are slightly spicy, or even just bell peppers or cheese peppers. If you’re feeling adventurous, wander into the wide world of spicy peppers and reap their health benefits and palate pleasing tendencies. Bring on the poppers, hot pepper jams, pickled chilies, meat marinades, salsas, and jalapeño margaritas!roasted chilies 3

A Day In The Life…

Produce Delivery—not a phrase that is often heard or even understood. We, Papa Spud’s Workers, Produce Deliverers, have one of the more confusing jobs to the outside world, especially when forms ask for your occupation. We are also privy to the corners and seams of every day life that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. From working with farmers to delivering produce to sorting through produce at 6 in the morning, we have collected a lot of stories. Here are a few funny anecdotes from our little corner of the produce universe:

The Attack of the Wild Turkey
A few weeks ago Alex was delivering on a sunny, hot, summer day. He pulled up to a house, got out of his car, and immediately saw something pop up behind a bush and disappear. Slightly unnerved but not too worried he continued to get the box of produce out of the car. As he started walking toward the house the creature reveals itself iTurkeyn the most majestic and terrifying turkey fashion. If you’ve ever seen an angry turkey, you can understand the bizarre fear that overtakes your body as it comes toward you. Turkeys puff up their chests, bristle their feathers, and drag their wings along the ground making a grating, unearthly noise. When angry, the head and wattle (which is the loose skin underneath their beak) changes colors from white to blue to red in a startling fashion. So this monstrosity began coming toward Alex from beneath the bushes, getting angrier with every step he took. So Alex did what any other person would do and grabbed an empty box out of his car to fend off the bird. After a few minutes of playing defense with a cardboard box from the turkey’s hellish talons, the customer heard the commotion and came outside. “I see you’ve met our friend,” he laughed as he used a long pole to shoo it away and ensure Alex’s safety. It turns out that the turkey belonged to a neighbor and would come over and terrorize their front yard. They had crafted this pole to scare the bird away when it wouldn’t let them out of their front door. And thus, Alex survived, the produce survived, and the turkey lives on to terrorize future produce deliverers, friends, and, probably, little dogs too.

In Which Cabin Fever Took Over A Young Boy
Back in the depths of winter, on one of our crazy snow delivery days, I was driving my little Honda Fit through the snowy streets, which did surprisingly well due to amazing front-wheel drive and quite a bit of vegetable weight. I arrive at a house and navigate down some stairs to drop off a box. Just a quick side note—delivering during the snow became quite enjoyable because I got to meet customers that normally wouldn’t be home and take a little break from focusing on not slipping on ice. As I walked down the stairs I noticed that there was a little boy, probably about 5 years old, wearing Superman pajamas sitting behind the glass front door staring longingly outside, face smushed up against the glass and everything. So I wave at him and knock on the door, and when his mom comes to open the door and take her produce, he bursts through the door with the force of a cyclone. He looked around, panicked, ran up to the top of the stairs, turned around to face us and threw his head back, balled up his fists and let out a ferocious roar of freedom. He caught his breath and stood still overlooking the great outdoors and taking in the freezing air as we fought back laughter.

But Snakes Like Produce Too
We have had several snake encounters over the course of Papa Spud’s adventures. I went to pick up a box one day and moved the empty on the porch before putting down the new box. Underneath the empty box, laying in wait, was a sleeping black snake. So I did what any sane person would do: screamed and ran away. The poor black snake woke up and slowly crawled farther into the corner, probably to shield itself from my loud exclamations.
Brett picked up a box unknowingly that had a black snake in it. He put the box in his car to take back to the warehouse and continued on his route. When he got to the next stop he looked back to a black snake stretched out across the back of his seat. After utter shock wore off, Brett began to attempt to craft a plan for how to get a snake out of his car without getting bit. Fortunately a neighbor came to the rescue and was able to get the snake out.
A few years back, one of our drivers was cleaning the returned boxes in the warehouse. He grabbed a box, opened it up, and didn’t look closely before reaching his hand into the box. Instead of pulling out a water bottle or berry basket, he pulled out his hand with a garter snake hanging from his finger.

The stories continue every week—from turtles in returned boxes to conversations with children about the stray cat they found in the gutter to the general tripping, slipping, and sliding up and down stairs and sidewalks in front of customers (or jumping at a black hose thinking it was a black snake in front of a customer). With your vegetables come a lot of humor and a lot of rolling with the punches. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Meet Your Bakery: Ninth Street Bakery

FullSizeRender

Right in Downtown Durham, in the middle of the loop on Main Street, sits Ninth Street Bakery. It has settled in its third location with a beautiful patio surrounded by vegetables and flowers, a huge commercial kitchen, and a small café that is partitioned off from the rest of the kitchen. They serve classic sandwiches along with some weekday specials such as a Thai Curry Bowl, Falafel Sandwich, Savory Handpies, pastries, and soup! You can sit inside or out and enjoy a nice cup of local coffee from Bean Traders (also FullSizeRender_1located in Durham), some fresh Kombucha on tap that is brewed in house, or a cold glass or bottle of beer. Of course you can find their selection of breads and sweet treats such as biscotti, cookies, or granola and even some Ninth Street Bakery t-shirts made by local t-shirt company, Runaway. On Saturdays and Sundays they serve a light (and amazing delicious) brunch with Vegan brunch on every third Sunday. Needless to say, you can find just about anything you may be looking for right inside Ninth Street Bakery.

Ninth Street was started in 1981 by two brothers, George and Frank Ferrell, Maureen Ferrell (Frank’s wife), and Michael Mooney (Maureen’s brother). FullSizeRender_4They were first located as a small café on Ninth St—where Dain’s Bar is now—and focused on selling their retail items at the bakery/café. Ninth Street Bakery was a big contender in the organic and healthy bakery circles in the ‘80’s, and its reputation and business continued to grow. As the company shifted from a retail emphasis over to wholesale, their location changed to fit their needs. After outgrowing their original space in 1989, they moved to a different location on Ninth Street (where Elmo’s is now) and opened a restaurant. They served everything from salad and soups, to coffee and pastries, to dinner entrees and desserts. They then opened a bakery plant in 1992 to help keep up with the demand as both retail and wholesale business grew. They operated as a restaurant for seven years and then decided that it was too stressful and time-consuming, and closed the restaurant portion. They shifted all of their operations and sales over to the bakery plant on Chapel Hill Street where they still operate today.

FullSizeRender_1

FullSizeRender_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ninth Street is now owned by Ari Berenbaum, who bought the bakery from the original owners when they retired. They were looking for someone who would carry on the business and the name with their original spirit in mind. Ari was a baker and production manager at Ninth Street, and has since been perfecting and modernizing recipes and adding bread selections. He got into baking at home and became intent on creating the perfect blueberry pie recipe—he attempted the pie fifteen times and the final product used wild Maine blueberries. He worked at a bookstore and wrote fiction while FullSizeRenderpursuing a graduate degree at UNC. While training as a baker at Ninth Street he left his degree program because he “caught baking like a virus”. Ari is originally from Boston and grew up with his family’s Jewish baked goods, which have inspired some of the items that are now offered at the bakery. The Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot is based off of Ari’s grandmother’s recipe. His favorite parts of baking are the creation process, keeping up with the artisan and baking world, and being challenged by others in his field. He is passionate about supporting and participating in the communities of Durham and the Triangle, and hosts charitable events as well as sliding-scale classes at the Bakery.

FullSizeRender_4

Now 2/3 of everything produced at Ninth Street Bakery is sold wholesale. You can find their products at Whole Foods, Kroger, Earth Fare, local Farmers Markets, and 20 different cafes around the Triangle area. They make 10-12 different varieties of breads and have 40-60 different products overall. Everything is made with local flower from Lindley Mills in Graham, NC.

FullSizeRender_2From all of its transitions to the bakery it has become today, Ninth Street has created its own niche in the bread-making community of the Triangle. Its somewhat complicated history has made it the eclectic and welcoming bakery it is today. Stop by and enjoy the atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed.

Shrimp and Grits: A History

Shrimp and Grits is a classic summer dish in the south. Chock full of flavor and spice, it is hard to go wrong with this combination, but it was not well known until the 1980’s. Shrimp and grits was originally from the Southern low-country, specifically coastal South Carolina and Georgia, where it was called “Shrimps and Hominy”. Some Charlestonians would eat it every morning for breakfast during the shrimp season, June-October. There is record of a similar dish from the Gullah (or Geechee) community in the low country. Outside of these areas, however, there was little mention of this decadent dish. That is until Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill came along. Neal was dedicated to discovering and sharing regional dishes of the South such as etouffees and muddle, or fish soup from the NC coast. Shrimp and grits was the dish to transform Crook’s Corner into what it is today—a fine dining destination—and it is still the most popular dish the restaurant offers. Now, because of Neal, Shrimp and Grits has become a very important dish to serve in Southern-style restaurants. Each chef has a specific way that they like to make it and the competition is high. “It’s been a remarkable journey for a once-obscure breakfast dish that’s now an icon of Southern fine dining.”

shrimp and grits

We are right in the middle of peak shrimp season in North Carolina and Papa Spud’s source for local seafood is Haag and Son’s in Oak Island, NC. John Haag has been in the fish business for over 30 years, so I decided to call him up to learn some shrimp facts. The shrimp that you will get in NC now is brown shrimp from the Pamlico Sound. Every year shrimp follFresh shrimpow the same migration patterns from the rivers to the sound to the ocean. When the shrimp are the in the sound they grow very quickly due to the warm water temperatures and abundance of food. Brown shrimp are highly prolific, each female lays 500,000- 1 million eggs and they all live only about 14 months. On July 4 the shrimp were around 40/50 and now they will be about 21/25—which means that there are 21-25 shrimp per pound (so they’re huge). Right now each boat that goes out to the sound has been pulling about 10,000 pounds of shrimp a week. The brown shrimp season will begin to wind down by the end of August and the White Shrimp will take their place. Now is the perfect time to enjoy some North Carolina caught shrimp in any way you can.

Carolina Grits & Company is located in Rocky Mount, NC. They sell Yellow Country, White Country, and Geechee Grits, all stone cut and whole grain. When grits are stone cut as opposed to stone ground, there is less heat produced while they are being milled which “preserves the flavor and allows them to cook to a larger size.” Whole grain means that no germ or bran is removed during the process. Carolina Grits & Company is the only known grits producer that mills their grits in this specific way. The owner, Ron West, learned everything he knows in South Carolina, where grits are the official state food, and has been in the business since 2005. The stones for their stone mill are pink granite and specially dressed, only found in quarries in Western NC, so every step of this process is as local as you can get. Inside a mill there are two millstones, the one on the bottom, the bedstone, is stationary and the one on the top, the runnerstone, actually turns and mills the grain. Both stones have grooves and furrows etched into them so that when they turn against each other the patterns create a scissor and cut the grain. Back when Grist Mills (often mistakenly called ‘grits mills’) were common, each miller had his own pattern on their stones and would show the pattern as their trademark or logo. There was once a sense of pride that went along with being a miller, and West is bringing that back with each bag of grits he sells.

millstoe2Old Millstone

 

 

 

 

The only difference between yellow and white grits is the color of the corn that is milled. The country grits are delicious, traditional grits that take about 45 minutes to cook. You’ll find some serious disagreements about how to best flavor grits, but my preference is adding butter, salt, pepper (sometimes a little cayenne for an extra kick), and cheese. Geechee grits, on the other hand, are larger and have a much longer cooking time, often cooked in a slow cooker overnight. They are a specialty that originates from the sea islands from North Florida up to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The Gullah, or Geechee, community descends from West African slaves brought over specifically for their knowledge of rice cultivation. Because of their specialized skills they were left largely to their own devices when they weren’t working which allowed them to continue their cultural way of life. The Gullah are the most authentic African culture that exists in America, today. They speak their own language, a creole of English and many different African languages. For more information about this important community watch this fascinating video about the Gullah Culture

The Geechee Grits produced by Carolina Grits & Company have become a chef favorite around North Carolina and are absolutely worth the wait for their long cooking time.

Shrimp & Grits:
Fresh, wild-caught shrimp from our NC coast. Stone-ground grits from Carolina Grits. It’s easy when the ingredients are this good! Satisfying southern dish that you’ll want to make over and over again!

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Serves 2

Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup stone-ground grits
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup whole milk
• salt
• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
• 2 strips of bacon
• 8 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
• 2 ounces white mushroom, coarsely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1/4 cup chicken broth
• 1/4 tsp. hot sauce
• 1 green onion, sliced

1. In a medium saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low and whisk in grits. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until grits are creamy. Stir in parmesan cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in additional hot water if grits get to thick. Add additional salt to taste.

2. While the grits cook, cook bacon in a skillet over medium high heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to paper towels, but keep bacon fat in the pan.

3. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to the skillet with the bacon fat, and cook over medium heat, flipping them once, until they are bright pink, about 2 minutes. Remove shrimp from the skillet, and set aside.

4. Add mushrooms to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute.

5. Increase heat on your skillet to medium-high, and add the chicken broth. As the broth sizzles, scrape the surface of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook broth until it reduces by about half, about 3-4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, add shrimp, and a dash of hot sauce. Stir shrimp in the sauce.

6. Serve grits in a bowl, topped with a few shrimp. Crumble the bacon over top, and garnish with sliced green onions. Enjoy!

Our American Food Culture Revisited

When you think of American food culture what comes to mind? Burgers and fries, mac ‘n cheese, quick, easy, and cheap—that is until it is time to go on a diet when you cut everything “bad” out for a short period of time until you are suddenly allowed to eat it again. The American relationship to food is puzzling at best, most likely because there is very little emphasis on the actual food and more emphasis on how (quickly, easily, cheaply) it gets into our stomachs.

two cheeseburgers with  fries

Our relationship with food has shifted immensely over the past century from smaller scale farms to industrial agriculture. Interestingly enough the shift came after World War II when the factories that were used to make nitrogen for bombs no longer became necessary, and they shifted over to making nitrogen-rich ammonia as fertilizer for farms. The use of fertilizer became much more widespread largely because the supply was there. Simultaneously incentives for growing a monoculture such as corn or soybeans were increasing so farmers were no longer rotating crops or fields. Once the monoculture became regular practice, nitrogen had to be added into the soil to support these notoriously “needy” crops (both corn and soybeans pull nitrogen from the soil). So this has culminated into a culture of industrial agriculture—pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, huge machinery—all to grow a massive amount of cash crops that have to be processed to be edible. And so the process continues because it is the cycle we have gotten ourselves into and we have come to expect and even like the kind of food that this system produces. We look to big corporations to grow, process, make, and deliver our food to as close to our houses as possible and the result is slightly terrifying. There are children in cities who don’t know what a carrot actually is, don’t know that fries come from potatoes which grow in the ground, and have no idea that the burger they are eating is actually from an animal. Before industrial agriculture really took hold there was a culture of plant and food knowledge that was passed down through families and among friends. Most people knew how to identify between a tomato plant and a weed because someone they knew had a garden and found it important to pass this knowledge along. This is slowly coming back, people are beginning to realize that far too often they have no idea what they are putting into their bodies or how to grow a garden.

We are lucky to be part of a current cultural shift where good food is once again taking precedence, where the face of the farmer is important, and where we know that food takes time and good company. Grist Magazine did a series called Farm Size Matters in which they have several articles explaining the agricultural system we have in place and the mid-sized farmers that “are too busy to sell at the farmers market and too small to compete” with the large-scale farms that dominate the food system. More and more people are becoming aware and publications are beginning to give time to delve into the maze of the food system in which we live. Urban farms are cropping up, food artisans are appearing, food and environmental education are beginning to be emphasized, and people are slowly beginning to learn how to truly interact with their food. We have the exciting responsibility to create a vibrant and interactive food culture for ourselves and for our children.

farmers market

It is times like these when it is important to collect and share stories of others around the country that are living the countercultural lifestyle immersed in food. The Bitter Southerner is a fantastic blog featuring beautiful stories from the South. A recent video and article was posted on their website about an urban forager/CSA farmer/author named Tiffany Noé. Noé lives in Little Haiti in Miami and has created a lifestyle revolving around growing food and foraging for food around her neighborhood. In Miami there are tropical fruit trees growing in public spaces that are free for anyone who is willing to harvest. She argues that this is the best way to get to know where you live—walk the streets and look for the food among the weeds and the trees. She advocates a knowledge of place and food that connects us to our home in a way that has been lost and connects us to our neighbors simply by meeting and talking to them as we explore. Raleigh has a similar group called Piedmont Picnic Project, that emphasizes local food history and wild edibles and connect us all to the Piedmont in a beautifully delicious way.

Similarly, there are food staples (especially in the south) that have been ultra-processed for a for a while and are being reclaimed. Grits, for example, have a bad reputation because of their widely used and impressively tasteless imposters—instant grits. In the wonderful words of the first witness in the movie My Cousin Vinny: “No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits.” It hasn’t been until recently that people have begun to seriously seek out different corn varieties and mill grits in a traditional way. In another beautiful Bitter Southerner post, the world of freshly milled grits is revealed. We have a great source of local grits in North Carolina from Carolina Grits & Company. These are high quality, freshly ground, dent grits (which refers to the the type of corn best for making grits), that are packed with flavor. They take longer to cook but they are well worth the wait–especially during shrimp season!

Slowly, alongside those who have already begun to pave the way, we can create a vibrant, local food culture. It will involve telling stories, sharing recipes, eating communal meals, going on walks, reading books, and cooking a lot. This unique time calls for our creativity, collaboration, and a sense of adventurousness. We can find the roots of our food and make it our own once again.

The Dog Days of Summer

Needless to say, the weather this year has been crazy— the long winter that swept 20-degree weather through Easter weekend, to the 100-degree weather that descended upon North Carolina a few weeks ago. We have entered into the dog days of summer, technically from July 3- August 11, which refers to the hottest and muggiest days of the season. The reason for this title is because at this point of the year the sun is in the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from Earth. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. The ancient Romans believed that Sirius actually gave off heat, and when it was in the same region as the sun they thought it contributed to the heat on earth—thus, we have the dog days of summer. So here we are, covered in humidity with very abnormal weather patterns, still in a drought in parts of the state, and yet farmers must keep farming.

 

dog days

I called Bill Walker of Walker Farms to hear how they have been dealing with the recent weather. Walker Farms is located in Randolph County, just south of High Point, or “red clay country”. When I asked about the recent wave of heat, Walker responded by saying that this heat hasn’t hurt his farm nearly as much as the long winter did. The dry heat can be dealt with through drip and overhead irrigation. It is definitely better than too much rain, as the old saying goes, “you can make it rain but you can’t stop it.” Farming in clay soil is beneficial during hot spells because clay stays relatively cool, especially compared to the sandy soil down east. The heat did hurt Walker’s first squash planting and then the rain came and “scared the next planting to death…but we’re surviving;” he didn’t seem too phased by the weather, they’re just working with it and rolling with the punches. It seems that odd weather patterns come as no surprise to Walker anymore.

The long winter and basically non-existent spring is really what messed with their crops this season. The cold season crops such as cauliflower had a hard time producing because the cold stayed for so long and damaged the fruit and the general growth. Certain plants like colder temperatures but they are usually planted in the cold and then they grow as the season gets slightly warmer; that didn’t happen this year. The winter settled in for the long haul, gave the spring crops a hard time, and caused a slow start for all the summer crops. It affected the pollination of the peppers so they came on really slowly this year. Up until very recently the peppers were producing very little, but after the recent evening storms they’ve finally caught up with themselves and begun to produce. Walker pointed out, however, that it might have been a good thing the peppers produced so slowly because when the heat hit they all would have gotten burned. The Globe Eggplant came earlier than the smaller eggplants this year, when it is usually the opposite— the plants have definitely noticed a change in the weather.

wild grass in the nature.

According to Walker it seems that recently every year has had some extreme weather. Perhaps extremes are becoming the norm, but farmers have to continuously learn and adapt with the seasons. This is exactly why it is important to invest in local agriculture: because these smaller-scale farmers have the ability to adapt and to change. Large monoculture crops will get hit with a disease and wiped out in one fell swoop, but smaller-scale farmers can plant different varieties and pay closer attention to how their crops are doing. The answer is not to create a roundup resistant strain of corn in the lab so we can spray more herbicides and not have to weed, the answer is to work with the land as we know it to be and plant accordingly. Farmers, like Bill Walker, that really know what they are doing are the ones that are going to change the food system for the better and it is our responsibility to support those farmers. The interesting thing is that if you want there to be more sustainable food, you have to eat it. So eat on all you foodies and environmentalists, you are doing more good than you realize.

Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Galore!

Multiple varieties of heirloom tomatoes and eggplants are finally in season. Their crazy colors and shapes can now grace your counter with their Dr. Seuss-like presence. They are calling for a culinary experiment with each touting its own flavor profile and subtle texture difference. Prepare your palates for the great vegetable diversity that is suddenly available.

heirlooms

There’s a lot of talk about heirloom tomatoes and how delicious they are, but what exactly is an heirloom tomato? Is the excitement justified? Absolutely. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties of tomatoes that have been around about 50 years and are often connected to a specific region or even a farm. These tomatoes have been bred for taste, texture, heartiness, and sometimes resistance to pests and disease. But let me warn you, once you have bitten into a fresh, heirloom tomato, the thought of buying another grocery store tomato will make you want to cry. The reason for the hard, flavorless tomato that is sold in the grocery store is that heirloom tomatoes do not ship well, they are much too delicate. Whenever you buy heirloom tomatoes you may notice how thin their skin is and how easily they bruise—don’t worry, it is just important eat them before they spoil. Heirloom tomatoes are not just delicious, flavorful tomatoes, but they are also full of history, full of hard work, full of the spirit of your region. They are different everywhere you go, so eating one is like reading a story.

There are several big-name heirloom tomatoes that are popular in North Carolina, each with its own claim to flavor-fame. Here in NC we have a tomato connoisseur named Craig LeHoullier that grows a multitude of tomatoes, check out his website for all the tomato information you could ever need!  Here are a few that you will most likely come across:

Cherokee Purple is purple-skinned, red-fleshed, and sweet. It is big and thick—a perfect slicing tomato—and gloriously ugly.

Mortgage Lifter is pink and large, it can weigh up to three pounds. They have a mild flavor and are also fantastic sandwich tomatoes.

Brandywine tomatoes are the most well-known heirloom tomato. They are what you think of when you think of the perfect tomato—sweet, acidic flavor, perfect texture, and slicing size.

Chocolate Cherry tomatoes are small, brown cherry tomatoes with a reddish tint. They, unfortunately, do not taste like chocolate, but they are still deliciously sweet and delightfully juicy.

There’s a lot of heirloom tomato pride in the south and a strong love of the perfect tomato sandwich (white bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, tomato, and salt and pepper if you want). Heirloom tomatoes are a must for these summer delicacies, and now is the perfect time to experiment and find your favorite heirloom tomato. Scott Huler wrote a fantastic article about the tomato sandwich in Our State Magazine that will ring true to any southerner.

eggplant copy

Eggplant is in the same family as the tomato—the nightshade family—and is surprisingly difficult to grow because a multitude of pests are attracted to it. It was once considered to be poisonous and believed to cause insanity, but lucky for us eggplants are very edible and very delicious. There’s a bit of debate about whether or not eggplant is poisonous when eaten raw, and after a bit of research I found the general consensus believes that to be untrue. So, eat on eggplant lovers and don’t worry about undercooking your eggplant!

Eggplant is found in many different cultures and can be found in Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, and French cuisine. The most common variety of eggplant is the dark purple Globe eggplant, but they come in many different varieties from tiny green fruit to totally white. Here are just a few varieties you may find available in North Carolina this summer:

Ghostbuster eggplant is ghost-white and sweeter than the traditional dark purple eggplant. It is usually about 6-8 inches long and the skin is a bit thicker.

Hansel eggplant is a thinner, longer variety of eggplant that can be harvested at three inches or ten inches and still maintain it’s sweet flavor. It is considered to be very versatile because it grows well in many different regions and because of the long window you have to harvest the fruit before it begins to lose its flavor.

Nadia eggplant is a traditional Italian eggplant that grows to be about 7 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. It is similar to the globe eggplant and is firm and flavorful.

Orient Charm eggplant is thin and light purple. It is a sweeter variety that doesn’t last very long once it’s harvested, so eat within a few days once you get it!

Kermit eggplants are small, round, light green eggplants that are the American hybrid of the Thai eggplant. Their tender skin makes them easy to cook and they soak up different flavors well, so they’re very versatile. These also do not have a very long shelf life, so be sure to eat the quickly.

This is my favorite time of year, with the bounty of fresh produce knocking down our doors and filling up our counter space. Too much eggplant and tomato is never a problem in my book. Enjoy the variety and report back with any delicious recipes you find!

Fourth of July

When I was growing up, the Fourth of July meant park parties, slip ‘n slides, watermelon, grilling out, fireworks, and playing outside all day long. As I’ve gotten older, I look back on those days with fondness, and am still trying to decide on traditions I want to carry throughout my life. It seems to me that celebrating freedom must also include being aware of our own freedoms and working to extend that to others. As Nelson Mandela so beautifully said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” So when we celebrate freedom and independence what does that truly mean? We celebrate our own freedom as well as our ability to help those who do not have what we have, we celebrate the beautiful land in which we live, we celebrate the abundance it provides, we celebrate the community we are a part of, and I’m sure we each have our own specific freedoms we celebrate each year. Our country is not just an abstract idea that was born in 1776, but it is our neighborhood, our family, our food, our rivers, and the list goes on. This is a day to remember the beauty we live among, to remember what others have done for us and what we can do for others, to recognize and appreciate how truly lucky we are and to not take that for granted. We have not gotten here alone. So when we celebrate, we feast, and we are lucky enough to live in an area where so much delicious food is in season! What better way to celebrate our home than to eat the food it provides?

The Fourth is a day for grilling out – an area of cooking I enjoy but know very little about, so I’ll leave that part up to you. I’m sure you have your favorite recipe for brats or chicken or burgers, but what is Fourth of July without the sides? I experimented a little bit this weekend with some delicious sides that will brighten up your holiday.

Black Bean and Corn Salad

Ingredients:
1 can black beanscorn and blackbean salad
5 ears of corn
1 pint grape tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
fresh basil
2 T olive oil
garlic salt
pepper
cayenne pepper (optional)

Preparation:
Roast the corn in the oven at 350 for 25 minutes in the husk. Shuck the corn, cut it off the cob, and add all the other ingredients. Season to your desired taste and let chill in the refrigerator.

Squash and Quinoa Fritters

squash and quiona frittersThese fritters are delicious on their own as a side or snack or you can stack your choice of grilled meat on top of them. I put pan-fried salmon on top with a bechamel sauce, but any grilled meat would be delicious—even a burger for those who don’t want to eat a bun!

Ingredients:
2 eggs
2/3 cup flour (for gluten free version, use multi-purpose gluten-free King Arthur flour)
2 cups yellow squash, grated
2 cups quinoa, cooked
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼ cup fresh spinach, finely chopped (OPTIONAL)
1/2 teaspoon salt
For garnish:
2 green onions, chopped
dollop of sour cream or Greek Yogurt

Preparation:
Mix all the ingredients together very well in a mixing bowl. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet until very hot. Drop a spoonful of fritter mixture into the skillet, use a spatula to flatten and round out the fritter, and allow it to cook and brown on the bottom. Once the bottom is crispy enough, flip the fritter and cook the other side. Take off heat and add salt if needed.

Note: Fritters are all about texture, if the first one doesn’t quite stay together or sticks to the pan, don’t be afraid to add a little more moisture or a little more flour. Fritters are similar to pancakes in that the first few are the ugliest until you figure out the right consistency and cook time. Don’t be discouraged! They’re worth it, I promise.

The recipe I adapted this from calls for spaghetti squash, but I used grated yellow squash. You can really use any vegetable you can grate: zucchini, beets, potatoes, carrots, etc. Experiment away!

Blueberry Lemonade Cooler

What is the Fourth of July without lemonade? But even better, lemonade complimented with local blueberries and mint? One of our customers, Treisha Hall, is a local chef, and she came up with this amazing recipe to feature our blueberries and mint in a delightful, refreshing way.

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh blueberries
20 fresh mint leaves
1 (12 ounce) can frozen concentrated lemonade
4 cups Sprite
1 lemon, sliced 

11406876_10152803482366246_2394485094937640150_nPreparation:
In a large pitcher, combine all ingredients and stir. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve in a chilled glass. Enjoy!

For all the adults out there, this drink would be especially delicious spiked with gin or vodka. Enjoy (and drink responsibly)!

Meet Your Farmer: LL Urban Farms

farmstand3

LL Urban Farms has come to fruition through a series of surprisingly fortuitous events and plenty of hard work. When you pull up to the farm stand on Holly Springs Road, its beautiful, reclaimed wood and organized décor make you want to buy all the local food you can fit in your car—that is after you go meet the chickens around back. Jim Loy and Glen Lang both come from business backgrounds; Loy was a tennis professional in Florida and Glen was the mayor of Cary from 1999-2003. When Loy and his family moved up to North Carolina, his daughter met Lang’s son at Athen’s Drive High School and the rest is history. The emphasis on family has remained and even those members who do not live in the area have helped and influenced the farm and its growth. When I went to visit the farm Lang was out of town, but I got the grand tour and the full story from Loy.

farm stand 1

Loy and Lang will have been farming for three years in July on their .99 acre plot in Holly Springs. When they first started out it was all an experiment, they bought the property on a whim and went from there. They grow their crops using a hydroponic system, which was Lang’s idea. Lang’s son studied Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University and worked withfarmstand2 them to make the farm more sustainable. They took a two-day seminar with Crop King, a company that specializes in hydroponic growing systems, and jumped in headfirst. According to Loy, when they first started they didn’t know enough to be afraid. A saying that they like to use around the farm when it gets overwhelming is: “Well how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This simple approach to farming seems to have served them well. They now have a fully functioning hydroponic system that recirculates water, measures it for nutrients, and adds the nutrients as they are needed. They have two greenhouses and three different tomato patches, several different crops planted along the fence-line, a chicken coop, a barn, and a beautiful farm stand. They have proven something that many people question when the small-scale agriculture argument comes up: a farm can be financially viable on one acre of land.

tomatoes2tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LL Urban’s way of farming is innovative and always adapting. They have six different types of heirloom tomatoes including Cherokee Purple, Early Girl, and Mortgage Lifter, all of which have been grafted. Grafting tomatoes is a method where you use the roots of heartier, more disease-resistant plants to grow plants with desirable fruit. This creates a stronger, healthier plant that produces fruit that is both delicious and more traditional. These grafted heirlooms grow in beta boxes with a watering system that runs beneath the pots and the ground is covered in black fabric to protect the plants from the many diseases that live in the soil. Alongside thislettuce3edit forest of tomatoes grow zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. Then come the two greenhouses where the bib lettuce is grown–fully equipped with a hydroponic system where the lettuce plants are sitting in hollow tubes and the water runs through the tube and is recirculated throughout. Along one wall of the greenhouse is a panel, that looks similar to an air filter, made from cardboard and dripping water, which creates cold air. Fans on the other side of the greenhouse pull the cool air across the plants. It is hard to grow lettuce during the summer in the piedmont, even inside, but LL Urban has perfected it.

lettuce2edit

Loy’s favorite part of farming is figuring out how to fix whatever breaks (because on a farm something is always broken) and constantly learning how to farm better and more efficiently. There are so many facets to this farm that it does not surprise me one bit that he finds this enjoyable, I imagine that he is always looking for more to do or a new system to implement. He takes such pride in every aspejim loyct of the farm and has a story behind each building and each project. Another side project they have taken on is growing green beans for stinkbugs. A business called Ag Biome is studying a colony of stinkbugs and buys all of LL Urban’s green beans, along with fresh produce from other farmers, to feed their bugs (the most well fed stinkbugs of all time). Finally, the farm stand is a production all on its own; along with selling their own produce, LL Urban sells many other local products from farms such as milk, honey, cheese, salsa, meat, and other local vegetables and fruit that they don’t grow on their own farm. Loy and Lang knew that they needed the farm stand to provide more than just their produce to make a business, and opted to build relationships and support with those around them doing similarly good work. This is a very old-fashioned approach the the farming tradition, a salute to an agrarian society, it reveals a true understanding that we have to work together to feed our communities and support the other farmers and food artisans around us. It takes away the competition and spreads the wealth so that good food can become more abundant for everyone. LL Urban is proud of what they grow and proud of what their friends grow. You can practically feel the excitement pouring from every surface and through every vegetable–and trust me, you can taste a difference.

chickens