I’d be lying like a cheap rug if I said I didn’t love a good farmers market or roadside vegetable stand- I like ’em for the folks who run them and the folks who are shopping as much as I love the fresh summer vegetables. It’s a good place to shop sort of slow…visit, listen and learn. Some of the best easy fresh vegetable recipes have come straight from the farm stands. And honestly, great advice- I asked one farmer ‘How are your tomatoes doing this year?’ He said, ‘They ain’t doin’ no good- too much rain, cold nights- them maters hate that- won’t get ripe fer not enough sun. But the ones we are gettin’ seem to taste good.’ Well, there’s my answer for why the tomatoes at Camellia’s Cottage aren’t bearing as in previous years! I bought a couple of green ones and several ripe slicing tomatoes. Another wonderful thing about vegetable stands, is the folks who work and shop there love food as much I do- you don’t see any dirt dauber waistlines at a farm stand- no, there are more elastic waist pants and house dresses, than couture. These are not gentrified folks- they are gentle hearted, home-cooked food loving people, no pretense, no bamboozling or nerve wracking price haggling, just good fresh food and clear prices. I bought a bag of small tender yellow crookneck squash, wanted some pattypans, they said they weren’t ready yet. Recently, I stopped at a small farm stand, it looked like rain, and the heat was stifling- I cracked my windows just a bit- didn’t want my vegetables to get steamed before I could even get home! I saw red hot peppers, rosy cheeked peaches, white webbed luscious cantaloupes, dark velvety blackberries, firm green tomatoes alongside plump red tomatoes and gen-u-ine Vidalia onions.
There were bell peppers as big as the Green Giant’s fist and prickly fresh okra- just right for a bowl of country popcorn- that’s a big bowl fried crisp with a mixture of white cornmeal with corn starch added for stabilizing the crunch- one of the great tips I got years ago. While I was picking out some Kirby cucumbers, I heard two ladies having fun with each other; laughing like hyenas-
‘So glad to see y’all back this year, how’s it goin?’ the answer- ‘Aw hon, it’s just another day at the Asylum’. ‘I know what you mean! I thought if it don’t stop raining, Herbert Ray’s gonna have me declared certifiably insane!’
A big F-150 pickup pulled up, two ladies in sensible shoes and loose dresses got out- flushed from the heat with hairnets on, followed by a big fellow who had wheeled and parked the truck just right to load…The vegetable stand owner hollered out- ‘What can I get y’all?’… ‘Well, we’ve come back to get another two pecks of those Clanton peaches! We got 15 pounds of sugar, so while we’re at it we thought we’d put up some extry for the church kitchen to keep on hand!’ Now, really, you have to love it- The fellow with those hairnet ladies had his big brown arms folded over the bib of a generous pair of overalls- he just wanted to load up the peaches so he could get back to his rat killin’. Like most men, had a one track mind. As the rain began to gently drizzle, friends huddled under cover of a blue striped canopy gossiping-
‘That Mizriz Smith, cute as a button but she don’t miss nothin’….’Don’t you know it!’…’Some hoodlums drove thru the neighborhood, whoopin’ it up, screeching their chrome rimmed tires- makin’ that car gyrate up and down, boom box howlin’…when that car back fired! Back fired I tell you!’… ‘What did she do?’… ‘Well, she didn’t take it sitting down, I’ll tell you now…She ran out waving her broom yellin’ – The nerve! The gall! Now, you’ve done it! What are y’all doin’ anyway? Ah am in the awkward position of havin’ to call the law! And you know every call you make up there goes out over that po-lice radio! This whole town’ll be lookin’ for y’all!’ Course they couldn’t hear a word she said what with that boom box’… ‘You’re right, she don’t miss a thing! A regular neighborhood watch she is!’
I bought several green bell peppers and couldn’t resist the Vidalia onions- sweet Jenny Lee told me she’d started using the milder white wine vinegar instead of distilled or cider vinegar- those sweet Vidalias don’t need to be overpowered by strong vinegar- I’m going to try it! By the time I got down to the end of the little stands… the new potatoes and peaches were picked over, I said I’d pass on the Ice Box Melons but I smelled the stem end of a heavy medium size cantaloupe and bought it…I wanted a pint of cultivated blackberries to make a Roly Poly, but I heard someone say they don’t have as much flavor as wild blackberries- so I took a pass. The wind was whipping up and it was beginning to actually rain. Time to get on home….you have to love Farmers Markets and Summer Vegetable Stands! Like all southern tales, this one is part truth, part myth and part outright lies! Well, except for those food tips…Names have been changed to protect the innocent!
Love y’all, Camellia
- Adding corn starch to cornmeal for coating okra before frying has the effect of Tempura- it absorbs the excess oil and stays crisp longer! White Wine Vinegar or Champagne Vinegar has a milder flavor and does actually bring out the flavor of sweet onions like Vidalias, for a wonderful refrigerator pickle! A Roly Poly is like a cobbler but it is made on top of the stove in a pot, with small sweet dumplings- without the crisp crust- it is an old timey- thick fruit pudding made with soft fruits and berries, topped with a scoop of ice cream and served with shortbread cookies, it is a rare treat!