FRESH, FRUIT AND FUN
By Mia Epsilon
It’s National Farmer’s Market Week! It’s time to celebrate those ‘little guys’ who mean so much to all of us. America, the UK and many other countries survive because of Farmers, yet next to Teachers (sorry, personal opinion and bias here) they are the most unappreciated and certainly lowest paid people in the world. Think about the food you eat. If it grows in the ground, either on a tree, bush, vine or dirt, you can thank a farmer.
So what exactly is a ‘farmer’s market’? The word is as familiar to me as my own name; I grew up in a rural area and my family was farmers. My summers were spent helping in the garden, sucking corn, picking beans and going on the hunt for blackberries which grew in abundance wild joyous freedom. Where I live now is the largest apple producing area in the state, second in the nation in production and first in the types of apples produced. ‘Apple Country’ has over two hundred different types of apples: from ‘pink ladies’ to Arkansas blacks’ to ‘golden delicious’. I also live in the state number one in production of sweet potatoes. Blackberries, strawberries and raspberries still, where unchecked, grow in joyous spreading freedom. I’m blessed.
But I digress. A Farmer’s Market is where local farmers take their harvest ‘to market’. There are numerous types: small tables set along the road to huge warehouse type ‘stores’. But the one thing they have in common: everything is local grown, local produced and healthier than anything you will ever buy in a conventional store. I love my Farmers’ Markets here. And yes, that’s plural: we have several. There’s the ‘really big one’ near the only big town in these mountains, with over one thousand local farmers and growers, everything from corn and beans to flowers and herbs, organic to still picked by hand, livestock like cows and pigs to chickens and goats. It’s an almost overwhelming explosion of color, scents and sounds.
Yet my favorite Farmer’s Market’s are the small ones. The ones where the farmers, their wives, and children see me coming and call me by name. These are the hard workers, the very backbone of any nation who keep us fed and happy. They show me the freshest, “just picked thirty minutes ago, hun” and the best deals “we’re doing two bundles because the fresh is about to go off” and don’t mind if I thump a melon to test it or pinch a carrot. I once bought fresh eggs and in my friendly chatting with the wife, I drove off without the eggs. The farmer’s son followed me for ten miles, flashing his lights until I pulled over and he could hand me the eggs.
My favorite finds are Farmers’ Markets are the vegetables. And the fruits. But especially the flowers. I may not always buy the bouquets, but there’s something about seeing the happy faces of sunflowers or wildflowers which makes it impossible not to smile back. ‘Happiness Grows From the Ground Up’ is a sign hanging from the flowers’ farmer’s table. His name is Walter and he started growing flowers for his British wife because she missed her English garden so much when he married her at the end of World War 2 and brought her back to his home. She died ten years ago and now Walter sells his flowers to make other wives and sisters and daughters happy. How’s that for a beautiful story?
When my children were small, we had a huge garden in the backyard and we continued the family tradition of ‘growing your own’. For some reason rhubarb grows like crazy here, and I don’t like it. My neighbors beside me love it and they trade me all the rhubarb they want for all the sweet potatoes I want. My neighbor also makes the world’s most incredible applesauce and supplies me, to this day, with dozens of jars every fall. I used to joke it wouldn’t be fall without Marilyn and her ‘sauce’; she is older now, and I know the fall is coming where there won’t be her sauce to enjoy over warm gingerbread on a cold winter night. She knows it, too, because she shared her recipe with me and gave her permission for me to share it with you.
Pre Plowed and Planted Garden Spot
In addition to the garden, we raised chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, bees and ducks. We also had a horse and rabbits. My graduation from college gift was twenty five baby ducklings from my neighbors. My kids named them all so they couldn’t be eaten. “If they have a name, they aren’t food”, my eight year old son reasoned. And Huey, Dewy, Louie, Sonny, Cher, Brittany, Madonna, King, Queen, Princess, U2, Nickelback, Donald, Daisy, Daffy and friends lived contentedly many years never in fear of a roasting pot. The turkeys were for the church Thanksgiving dinner; the pig was winter supplies, the bees gave honey and the chickens gave the fresh eggs a family of nine needed. The rabbits were pets and the goats gave milk. Behind our house and yard is an apple orchard where we ‘pick our own’. Yes, blessed.
I don’t consider myself an excellent cook, but I’ll gladly share a few recipes I’ve discovered from the Farmers’ Markets or made with foods from the there. Please note I say ‘to your own preference or taste’. I’m an experimental cook; sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Food is all about what *you* prefer or your taste buds, so modify these to your own choice and preference. Visit a local Farmers Market and support a small farmer. They will thank you and so will your taste buds and body.
Vegetables (your choice, your favorites) cut into chunks (keep in mind big chunks roast slower and often ‘burn’ before the middle is tender; small chunks roast faster and need less time)
Olive oil (I could put an amount, but really, it’s preference
Spices (I use fresh ground garlic, thyme and oregano)
Roasting pan (I use a ‘cookie sheet’) lined with foil or parchment paper
1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees (sorry I don’t know UK equals. What you roast meat at). I’ve found this to be the ideal temp; any higher tends to burn the veggies before they are tender.
2. Cut vegetables and toss with olive oil. Make sure all are evenly covered in the oil (not ‘dripping, but wet).
3. Place vegetables on the pan. I put ‘hard’ vegetables like beets and potatoes together and ‘tender’ ones like peppers and mushrooms together. Make sure they are spread out, not overlapping and the pan is covered.
4. Sprinkle with spices. (As a note, roasted beets sprinkled with just thyme and ginger are omg good).
5. Roast until tender. This will vary according to your oven, if it’s raining outside, etc. Figure for tender vegetables about 10-15 minutes and 30-45 for harder vegetables.
6. Let cool 5 minutes and dig in. These also freeze well and will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.
Your Favorite Kind of Apples (she also uses ginger golds or red delicious; I use golden delicious). If using the slow cooker as I do, I find 8-10 medium to large apples is enough.
Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Ginger (It’s to taste and what you like)
Water (again, preference; she adds 1/2 cup for ‘thinner’ sauce. I don’t for thicker sauce)
1. Peel apples if desired and cut into bite sized chunks.
2. Place in slow cooker (I spray mine first with cooking spray or rub it with olive oil so apples don’t stick).
3. Sprinkle on spices and let cook on low 6-8 hours. I don’t recommend high because to me the apples taste ‘burned’. Your house will smell INCREDIBLE.
4. Remove and blender away chunks you don’t want. The apples should be tender and usually ‘melt’ but some harder types may not. I don’t mind the chunks but if you do, blender.
5. Enjoy! I love this over warm gingerbread. Also makes a great topper to baked potatoes or roasted pork.
Stir with a cinnamon and mmm mmm
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Mia Epsilon is a dedicated Farmers Market shopper and swears the taste difference between something local and something shipped in can be tasted by any dedicated tongue. She no longer has the ‘family farm and zoo’; but still enjoys growing many of her own fruits and vegetables. She lives in the gorgeous and fruitful area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina, commonly called the Appalachian area.
Mia is the author of Wedding Belle Blues, a contemporary romantic comedy released in June of 2014 and Leave Your Hat On, a short story available as part of a limited hard cover edition of tales inspired by the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Also look for the second and third books in the ‘Weddings by C & C series’ Take a Chance on Me and That Night coming Fall 2014.