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Favorite Shopping Market

 

My favorite grocery store opened in May. Selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Beef butchered here in Tennessee. Bakery items: fried pies, sour dough bread, poppy seed muffins. Homemade candles. Honey. Cut flowers. All local. Available at the Community Farmers Market, 201 Mahler Avenue.

I hate grocery shopping. I psych myself up to push a cart down store aisles. What a freedom to get to choose, I tell myself. How fortunate to buy what’s on my list. While I force myself to do week-in, week-out grocery buying, shopping at Farmers Market soothes my country girl appetite and soul.

Saturdays are the days everyone shows up. All the vendors. All the shoppers. It’s like Saturdays when as a kid I walked with Granny to town in Byrdstown. She stopped on the sidewalk to talk with friends, and I spent my dime for an Archie comic book at the drugstore. For a down home gathering and the widest selection, go to Farmers Market on Saturday

Because the pavilion is available for vendors Monday- Saturday, anytime I drive near Mahler Avenue, I swing by. Monday morning, 9:00, I didn’t really expect to see sellers, but I hoped for one tomato for a BLT. Parked was a green pick-up truck piled with corn. I’m hooked by one vendor selling one item and I was the only customer.

“Good morning,” a strong looking young man greeted me as he shucked heavy thick leaves off an ear of corn.

“Good morning. Looks like you’ve been busy. Picked this morning?” I asked.

“Yes, mam. Peaches and cream. It’s pretty good.” He nodded toward the one ear he’d completely shucked. Yellow and white kernels glistened. Golden silks. Not a single worm.

“How much?” I asked.

“$5.00 a dozen.” Didn’t I pay $4 a dozen last year? And not long ago, $3? Hadn’t I bought corn from him before? I asked his name.

“Lance,” he said and nodded. Thick corn leaves fell and Lance stacked light green leaf-covered ears of corn. “I’ve sold a lot corn for several years. Right from this truck.” I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my pocket. Lance counted a baker’s dozen and put thirteen ears of corn in a plastic bag.

As I drove home, I thought of a sign my mother kept on the wall of her business, Ruth’s Flower Shop, in the 1960s. Something like, ‘If folks only knew the time and money spent to grow flowers, they’d gladly play the price.’ I can only guess the time and money spent to break the ground, plow, plant, fertilize, weed, remove suckers, gather, sell. For about forty cents an ear, I can bite into tender fresh-picked corn.

Most Saturday mornings I stroll through Farmers Market. I take home bags of vegetables and fruit. Last week I made a plan with a vendor to buy twenty pounds of cucumbers to make pickles.

Farmers Market is open through October. I just wish the vendors sold everything on my shopping list.

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Fresh Corn from Farmer’s Market

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.04.07 AMHusband and I bit into ears of fresh corn. Peaches and cream. White and yellow kernels. Our first corn this summer and bought at Cookeville’s Farmer’s Market.

“It’s kinda’ crunchy. Maybe next time I’ll cook it a little longer,” I said.

Husband wiped his chin with a napkin. “This is about perfect.”

Yes, about perfect. There’s nothing like fresh from-the-field veggies and once again, I’m so thankful to those who grow crops and bring them to town to sell.

What’s the better way to eat corn on the cob? By the row or around the cob? Chomping from end to end by rows, I eat every single kernel. But some prefer to rotate the cob and start eating at the thicker end saving the most tender and smallest kernels for last.

Anyone use corn picks? Plastic, yellow, and shaped like an ear of corn, the corn picks I used as a kid are hidden away in the back of a kitchen drawer. And now bright colored holders with threaded prongs to screw into the cob or stainless steel corn holders are available to buy. Most times I forgo the picks. I really don’t mind a little corn juice running down my arm.

Butter? Salt? Butter for me, please, and roll the ear on the butter. The hot corn glides and the butter melts between kernels. Afterward, I’m left with a strange looking stick of butter, but it still spreads on hot cornbread. Salt? It depends on the sweetest of the corn. Really sweet corn just needs butter.

I grew up eating sweet yellow corn. Husband likes white Silver Queen. But neither of us are corn snobs – we like it all. The fresher, the better.   The moment an ear is pulled from the plant, its sugars begin to change into starches. If you like that starchy flavor, cook corn several days after it’s been picked.

Did anyone else’s mother boil corn for twenty minutes? It was well done. A bit chewy and starchy. To cook a few ears, I cut off the silks with scissors and stick the shucks and all in the microwave. Two minutes per ear for tender, crunchy kernels. Or try grilling corn in the shuck with the grill cover closed for about 15 minutes, turning the ears about every five minutes. Roasted brown kernels and delicious.

It’s easy to take off the silks and shuck warm microwaved corn. I saw an online video showing how to cut off the stem end and push the cooked ear of corn out of the shuck. It takes practice and patience and I haven’t mastered that trick. I slice off the thicker end and easily remove shuck and silks together.

As I’ve been writing this column, I’ve wonder why we say ‘ear of corn?’ Nothing about corn looks like an ear.  According to Wonderopolis, a national nonprofit organization to help adults and children learn together, ear comes from the ancient word “ahs” which meant husk of corn. So did the word ear mean corn before it referred to an organ for hearing?

I buy the freshest, sweetest corn offered at Farmer’s Market, even though the price, $5.00 per dozen, has increased this year. That’s only forty-two cents per ear, a serving, and I’m quite happy to pay. I’m really glad the farmers plow the ground, plant seeds, hoe plants, gather corn, haul it to town, and spend days selling it out of the back of their pick-up trucks.

Summertime is even better when eating a fresh ear of buttered corn.

It’s Pumpkin Time

search-1 “What happened to that pumpkin?” my young Grand asked. She pointed to what looked like a normal pumpkin to me so I asked what she meant. Why did she think something had happened? “It’s a funny color. Did it fade?” she asked.

No, it didn’t fade. It was a tannish-orange colored pumpkin like the ones that everyone cut to make jack-o-lanterns when I was a kid growing up in Pickett County. A plain pumpkin. The same kind of pumpkin that Mother cut up, scooped out the meat, and used to make a pumpkin pie. A field pumpkin.

Field pumpkin – an apt name. Dad grew them in a field, usually close to or in the cornfield. He and I would walk among the dry corn stalks, which scratched and scraped my arms, searching for a perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin. It had to sit flat and not tip over. The skin had to be smooth with no ugly bumps, at least on one side. I liked a tall, skinny pumpkin. Then there was plenty of space for a face to be cut out. Triangles for his eyes and nose and a mouth with jagged teeth. And we’d dig out a place inside on the bottom to stand a tall, maybe a six-inch tall, candle. A real candle.

My Grand’s questions made me notice all the many varieties of pumpkins available at Farmer’s Market that Saturday morning. So how many kinds are there? A website for seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com) lists 67 pumpkin varieties. Looking at the pictures, I counted 45, almost 70%, bright orange ones. Only one was the color of every jack-o-lantern my daddy helped me cut.

The seeds available on the website promise to grow pumpkins in many shapes and colors, and all sizes! Most are traditional round shapes, but some look like gourds and one like a banana. Most are bright orange, but some are green or blue-green or white or speckled with orange and green splotches. The Marina Di Chioggia variety is the size of a softball and has a “blistery, bubbled, slate blue-green rind.” A five pound Bliss has a “mottled appearance that resembles a frog’s skin.”

The Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety commonly grows to be 100 pounds and can be up to 1500 pounds. I wonder if the 1405 pound pumpkin that won first place for giant pumpkin at the Great Pumpkin Festival in Allardt, Tennessee a couple of weeks ago was a Dill’s Atlantic?

While my Grand and I wandered through Farmer’s Market that day, I told her that she could choose a pumpkin to take home. One that would be all her own. She chose a tiny one – bright orange of course – that just fit in her small hand. I’m pretty sure it’s a Wee-B-Little.

And I bought two pumpkins for fall decorations, although my Grand said they probably weren’t real pumpkins because they weren’t the right color. A soccer ball size white one and a green and white striped one that looks like a big gourd. And we bought a tall, bright orange one to cut for a jack-o-lantern. Why choose a faded pumpkin when you can have a bright orange one?

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It’s Fall at Farmer’s Market

Picture 2     Last Saturday morning, I felt like I was visiting a friend who had changed her décor.  Where ears of corn had filled the beds of pick up trucks, now there were pumpkins.  Bushel baskets that had overflowed with green beans now offer turnip greens and sweet potatoes.  During the past few weeks, Farmer’s Market has taken on a whole new look.

“No, we don’t have fresh spinach,” a seller told another shopper.  “But we’ve got plenty of turnip greens, Swiss chard, fall lettuce, and kale.”  He waved his hand over a table.  All those greens, plus turnips, and a variety of peppers.   I walked passed tables loaded with quart jars of green beans, spices, brightly colored zinnias, apples, pears, fried pies, eggs, fresh baked breads.  “If you like peach cobbler, you’ll love this peach bread,” said a lady wearing a red baker’s apron.

I spotted a pick-up truck loaded with pumpkins and squash.  “Tell me about your squash,” I said.  Twenty minutes later the vendor, Mrs. Fielder, was my friend.  She said, “Cut this spaghetti squash (yellow and small football shape) down the middle, get the seeds out, cook it in the microwave or bake it.  Then instead of those boxed noodles, pull out the middle of your squash, kinda’ in strings or strands, and pour your red sauce over it.  It’s better than any packaged noodle.”

I thought I knew the best way to cook butternut squash, seasoned with butter and brown sugar.  “Don’t you sprinkle them with cinnamon?  Oh, it’s good,” Mrs. Fielder said. “And cut up an apple and bake it with your squash.  Or add a can of mandarin oranges.  A little fruit gives butternuts a whole different flavor.”

“Have you ever eaten a raw butternut or acorn?”  Mrs. Fielder asked.  “Try eating one like you’d eat a apple.  Or make a salad – like you’d make an apple salad.”  I’ve munched on raw yellow summer and zucchini squash, but never a butternut or acorn squash. And I thought a few slices of onion were all I needed to season an acorn. Mrs. Fielder said, “Make a little stuffing – just like for Thanksgiving – and bake a ball of it in the middle of half an acorn.  It’s really good.”  And if I want an orange fall decoration, all I have to do is lay an acorn squash in the sun for a few days.  “Use it for decoration and then eat it.  Winter squash keep a long time in a dry, cool place,” my new friend said.

Picture 1 “Is that a pumpkin or squash?”  I asked, pointing to an orange and white striped vegetable that was shaped somewhat like a drinking gourd.  “A pumpkin – a Kershaw pumpkin,” Mrs. Fielder said.  “And it tastes as good as it looks.  Like a cow pumpkin.  You know, the old timey light-colored real pumpkins?”  She and I agreed that the bright orange pumpkins are pretty, but the delicious pumpkin pies that our mothers made were from cow pumpkins.

I bought so many squash that Husband and I can eat it prepared a different way every night this week.  But we won’t.  Acorn and butternut squash and that Kershaw pumpkin and a few fall colored leaves make a perfect table decoration.  I’ve made a grocery list for my next shopping trip to Farmer’s Market:  more squash, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, turnip greens, and whatever looks good.