Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Early Spring at the Farmers Market

Creasy greens to old-timers, watercress to the gourmet crowd.  These spring greens are known for their peppery taste, which can turn bitter as it grows older.
An elderly couple leafed through the box, taking a big handful.  They were going to boil them with some turnip greens, to cut the strong taste, they said.  "They're a spring tonic," the gentleman said.  
"And, they'll clean you out, so watch it!"   I remember my grandmother talking about picking tender shoots as they emerged on damp banks of the little creeks on our farm.  In the old days, creasy greens were such a treat after having only root vegetables available during the winter.
With my big handful, I picked the tender leaves from the stalks, washed and dried them in a spinner, then used the watercress as a backdrop for a lovely spring salad, with goat cheese, tasted walnuts and a light lemony vinaigrette.  Another dinner they served as a bed for the beets I had also bought and roasted, with goat cheese and toasted walnuts, too.  Now that's a spring tonic!

Max Jones speared a piece of sausage from the skillet at the MAE Farm Meats booth, located in the inner building at the Raleigh State Farmers Market.  Max is a fourth grader, helping his mother, Suzanne, man the booth during his school's spring break.  He pointed to a poster board full of mug shots with him and his sisters and the pigs they raise on their Louisburg farm.  "We grow our own pigs, all natural.  No animal cruelty," he declared. 
Max pointed me to a New York Times piece featuring his father and his efforts to bring pig farming back to a more natural affair allowing pigs to roam and root like pigs are wont to do.  Working with A & T University in Greensboro, Mike Jones has helped about 70 farmers in eastern NC get started, using a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.  MAE Farms' pork chops are phenomenal in flavor and texture.  The spicy Italian sausage was delicious paired with mushrooms, peppers and a tomato sauce.  Check them out at

 Do you get wild eating foods from NC?  Perhaps, when you get out into the woods and fields of NC to learn to forage for edible wild plants.  A feast of collected foods provides the final climax for the last weekend in April, the 25th to the 27th, and held at the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4H Center, four miles from Reidsville.  You can stay in rustic dorms with bath facilities and enjoy Southern home cooking.  Contact Debbie Midkiff at or (919)489-2221.

The huge spans of rosemary in my gardens have boasted sweet blue blossoms for several weeks now.  I've found shoots of garlic chives, but not my regular chives, so I'm worried about them.  The Greek oregano is getting enough leaves to borrow a few for pasta and veggies, and the Italian parsley is looking good.  The rain this past week has been so wonderful.  April showers are so welcomed this year after the drought.
I do not have a vegetable garden, only a small one for herbs near the house that the deer tend to leave alone.  The deer are quite a problem for me.  They've decimated azaleas, hostas, tomatoes or anything, really, that likes to grow except for the weeds.  So last year I planted herbs and tomatoes and some greens in pots on the deck.  The squirrels were delighted.  They decimated most plantings.  Now what is a frustrated green thumb to do?  We have deported a few squirrels with a Have-A-Heart trap, but to keep that up, we'd have to develop a bus system for the bushy-tails.

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