Have you ever eaten a perfectly ripe summer grown tomato? How about a peach? Juicy and sweet, just picked off the tree. Strawberries, blueberries or blackberries that you can pick yourself? We would always eat as many as we picked and come home full of berries, but empty handed. How about some farm fresh vegetables or peas? Fresh corn on the cobb is as sweet as sugar if eaten at the peak of freshness. A good Smith County watermelon is summer perfection! All these treats can be found at our local farmers markets.
I have written before about my failed attempts at a family garden. I can grow a few herbs, but we simply do not get enough sun in our yard for a good garden. Never worry, I do not need to grow my own. We have plenty of wonderful Mississippi farmer’s markets in the area and you can rely on them for your farm-fresh food.
Eating fresh and healthy locally grown food is worth the effort to find. Check out the “New” Mississippi Farmers Market on High Street, the “Old Farmers Market” or Adcox on West Street, Freshway Produce on Old Canton Road, Cockrell’s Farmer’s Market on Old Fannin Road, and Wrights Fruit Stand on Highway 49 in Richland, just to name a few. The knowledgeable folks that work there can help you find the perfect fruits or vegetables. Ask them where the produce is grown. If they do not know, find something else to buy. Food eaten in season and picked at the peak of ripeness tastes better.
Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Dressing or Alabama-Style White Barbecue Sauce
My mother’s fried green tomatoes are one of the most decadent and delicious things to eat in the summer. They are definitely not healthy, but an occasional splurge certainly makes them worthwhile.
5 medium size green tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
about 6 cups vegetable oil or reserved bacon drippings for cooking
Whisk together cornmeal, flour and next three ingredients. In a separate dish, dredge tomato slices in buttermilk and then in flour/cornmeal mixture. Allow tomatoes to rest for about five minutes, as this allows the batter to better adhere to the tomatoes. In a large cast-iron skillet or electric skillet, heat oil or bacon grease to about 375°. Cook tomatoes in batches of hot oil for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels and sprinkle with salt or lemon pepper, if needed. Serve immediately with the goat cheese dressing on the side.
Goat Cheese Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 ounces chevre’ goat cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice.
Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerator for up to one day. Thin with additional buttermilk if needed.
“Alabama Style” White Barbecue Sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. creole mustard
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. sugar
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
Tomato Sandwich with Homemade Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
I have to admit that a tomato sandwich served with a little mayo on a piece of white bread cut in a circle is about the best part of summer. We serve ours open-faced (I rarely take the time to cut my bread in a circle, but I love it and it reminds me of my grandmother.) Add a smear of flavorful homemade mayo, coarse kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh dill or celery salt. Perfection.
Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons vinegar, rice wine vinegar, if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon or more roasted garlic*
1 cup olive oil
Blend all ingredients except olive oil. Then, slowly add oil in a steady stream until a mayonnaise like consistency forms. Store in the refrigerator.
*To roast garlic: With a very sharp knife, cut the top 1/2 inch tip off of an entire bulb of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and wrap tightly in foil. Bake in a 375° oven for about 30 to 45 minutes until garlic is soft. Allow to cool a few minutes and then simply remove cloves by squeezing the bottom of the bulb and allowing the cloves to pop out of the top.
My friend Amanda Roberson, shared this recipe with me last year. She and her husband ordered the dish at a restaurant in Ashville, some time back and she came home raving about it and determined to find the recipe. This is it and it is simply spectacular. Do not be put off because it is eggplant or because it is fried. Give it a try and enjoy. It is light tasting and flavorful, and a perfect combination of salty and sweet.
2 medium eggplants
2 cups whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup local honey
1 4-inch sprig fresh rosemary
Coarse kosher salt, to taste
1 quart vegetable oil
The day before you plan to serve, cut the tops and bottoms off the eggplant and peel with a vegetable peeler or knife. Slice eggplant into rounds that are about 1/2 inch thick. Put into a large container or bowl, and add enough milk to cover and submerge the eggplant. You might have to weigh down with a plate to keep them covered. Soak overnight in the refrigerator.
When ready to prepare, heat a large cast-iron skillet or electric skillet with about 1 inch of vegetable oil. While the oil heats, drain the eggplant and dredge in flour. Tap off any excess flour and gently fry eggplant pieces until golden brown but not too dark. About 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not crowd the pan.
Carefully remove eggplant slices from the hot oil and sprinkle each piece of eggplant with a pinch of coarse kosher salt. Drain on a wire rack. When ready to serve, drizzle each piece of eggplant with some local honey and top with a few chopped rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.
Classic Southern Field Peas
At the farmer’s market, there are many different varieties of field peas, which are actually beans or legumes. Crowder peas, black-eyed peas, cream peas or lady peas, purple hull peas, and other varieties can be found. This recipe should be suitable for any of them but you might need to adjust the time of cooking based on the size of the pea.
2 smoked ham hocks
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups shelled fresh peas, about 1 pound
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Bring ham hocks and about 4 cups of water to boil in a large Dutch oven. Simmer 1 to 2 hours until the meat is tender.
Meanwhile, sauté onion in hot bacon drippings in a medium skillet. Add garlic and sauté about one additional minute. Add peas and onion mixture to the Dutch oven with ham hocks.
Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes until peas are tender. Remove ham hocks, if desired, chop ham from the bones and add to the drained peas. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.
Stir Fried Baby Okra
When my kids were little, we would make a lot of trips to the farmers market as our afternoon outings. They loved to go pick out their favorite fruit or the biggest watermelon. We always asked them to stand at the okra table and pick out all the “baby ones” for us. The kids would hunt through the big table and look for all the little ones (about 1 or 1 ½ inches long). These are super tender and perfect for a quick stir fry.
1 lb. baby okra, washed and stems removed1 Tablespoon canola oil
Kasher Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Heat oil in the bottom of a wok, cast iron skillet, or heavy bottom skillet. When oil is almost smoking, carefully toss in okra and stir around for about 1 minute. Allow okra to cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Allow some dark brown marks and a little char. Toss in salt and pepper and serve hot.
Silver King or Queen Corn cooked in the Microwave
When traveling to and from the beach in the summer, we rarely miss the opportunity to pick up a few ears of fresh corn. Silver King or Silver Queen is our favorite.
My brother told me this trick several years ago to get the corn easily out of the husk without any of the silk. Place the fresh corn, in husk, in the microwave and cook for about three minutes per ear. Carefully remove corn from the microwave using a towel. While the corn is still hot, cut the large end (the stem) completely off about one inch from the bottom. Holding the tip of the corn by the husk, gently shake the corn out of the husk, leaving almost all of the silks behind.
Slather corn with butter and a sprinkle of salt. Enjoy.
Grilled Banana Peppers
This is one of our favorite side dishes in the summer. When grilling, just throw on some of these peppers for a fresh from the garden treat. Any peppers will work, some are hot and some are mild, pick your preference.
6 mild banana peppers
Wash peppers and carefully place on a well-heated grill. Cook on high flame until each side is slightly charred, turning frequently. Remove from grill and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Serve hot. Perfect alongside a steak.
Summer Fruit Crostata
I have found that this relatively simple and easy to prepare dessert is the best way to show off fresh and delicious fruit at the peak of its freshness. The best part is that the recipe makes two Crostatas: one to eat and one to share.
For the pastry crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks cold butter, diced
6 tablespoons ice cold water
To assemble the crostata:
2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and quartered
1-pound fresh, ripe plums, quartered but unpeeled
1-pint fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon +1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon +1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 12 to 15 times until butter is the size of small peas. With the motor running add the ice water all at once and keep hitting the pulse button to combine. The dough will be shaggy and not in a ball, but turn it out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut in half and form into two flat discs. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
When ready to bake the crostata, preheat the oven to 450°. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface and transfer it to the baking sheet. Repeat with second disc of dough.
For the filling, cut peaches and plums into wedges and placed them in a bowl with blueberries. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the flour and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.
Pour half of filling into the center of each crust leaving about a one ½ inch border around the edge of dough.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Gently fold the border of the pastry in on the filling to make an edge. It does not need to be perfect. I just call it “rustic.”
Bake the crostata for about 20 to 25 minutes until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Allowed to cool for a few minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
Watermelon and Tomato Salad
My favorite way to serve watermelon is de-seeded and cubed straight from the refrigerator. However, sometimes I have dressed it up a little for a party. This recipe is from Rebecca Wiggs and I found it in the Belhaven House and Garden Club’s cookbook, Salads and Sips. The salad and the cookbook are both winners!
1 (3 pound) watermelon, remove rind and seeds, and cut into ¾ inch chunks
2 large tomatoes, cut into ¾ inch chunks
1 cup (about 4 ounces) feta cheese, crumbled
2/3 cup fresh mint and parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic or champagne vinegar
Salt/pepper to taste
Carefully toss together all ingredients and season to taste. Serve immediately.
Nothing says summer more than good strawberries. When picking out fresh strawberries smell the package and make sure they smell “like strawberries,’ that way you know they have good flavor.
2 cups flour
4 tsp. (rounded) baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs sugar
1 stick or 8 Tbs butter
2 Tbs shorting
About 3/4 cup milk
Sift together dry ingredients, cut in butter and shorting until mixture looks like course meal. Mix in milk to form very soft dough. Turn out on a well-floured surface and roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with both a large and small round cookie cutter to make your “bottom” and “top” of shortcake.
Bake on a well-greased cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes at 400 or until lightly browned. Serve with fresh sliced strawberries and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Slice or chop strawberries and sprinkle with a little sugar and allow them to macerate for a few minutes before serving. This will also create fresh syrup that will go well with the topping.
The shortcakes are also great with fresh peaches or any summer fresh fruit.