TO MARKET, TO MARKET......and I come home laden with so much I have to make a list to make sure I don't overlook something in the fridge during the week.
It's sensory overload, just walking through the farmers market. "Taste this," the vendors cry, holding up pieces of peaches, tomatoes or cukes. And I taste and taste. And I buy. We have been eating like royalty these days, with plates laden with sweet fresh corn, crisp green beans, squash and zucchini laced with oregano from the herb garden, fresh pears, and sweet, sweet watermelon......oh, my.
Fresh and local, that should be everyone's mantra. Especially now, during the height of the summer's harvest, and knowing that in just a few short weeks, the peas will be gone, maybe the sweet corn won't be there next week, and the figs? Grab them while you can.
The beauty of a fig sliced open, the musty flavor that wafts from within, the moist, honeyed sweetness....well, it's almost like having sex in the kitchen.
Figs grow profusely on Hatteras and Ocracoke. Seems they like the salty air, and most long timers there place oyster or clam shells around the base of their fig trees, both as a mulch and for the minerals to leach into the soil. Lynne Foster lives on Hatteras Island, and with husband Ernie runs the Albatross Fleet, a set of charter boats that go out to the Gulf Stream right off the Outer Banks. Lynne most graciously shared some recipes with me for THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
One of our favorites is an appetizer of fresh figs. Here's an adaptation of one of Lynne's great recipes, using what I had on hand one evening. Preheat the broiler. Slice the figs in half vertically, from stem to end. Place a toasted or candied walnut in the center, then top with fresh chevre. Place under the broiler until the cheese softens just a bit, about two minutes. To gussy them up, place a sprig of fresh herbs on top, like thyme, even rosemary. Wait just a few minutes before serving because they can burn your mouth if you pop them in right away.
O' HENRY Peaches . . . .As I peeled these beauties, I couldn't help but think about the lovely short story read each Christmas by O'Henry, about the couple who each gives up something significant in order to buy a beautiful present for the other..... I believe O'Henry was from Greensboro, NC. These sandhill peaches are a short-season variety. Very dark in color, as you can see in the photo. Isn't that a lovely, 3-handled pottery dish made by my friend Missy Manning? We saw a dish similar to that when we got caught in a short squall while hiking up to a view on Virgin Gorda on our last sailing trip in the BVIs. Missy came home and did it even better, so I grabbed it at one of her shows. I love using this dish, not only because of its fond memories, but because it shows off my food so well.
I've been making an effort this summer to freeze some favorites. Blueberries, peas, and peaches, esp. I buy in quantity, which presents the problem of spoilage. If you wait until the peaches are just beginning to soften, you have to deal with some that have mold or have gotten too soft. I spread them on the countertop, not touching, when possible, and that seems to help some. I remember helping my grandmother with freezing peaches, when my dad would return from Georgia where he bought tobacco slips in the early summer. He'd bring back a bushel basket or two of the first peaches of their season, and we'd spend a day peeling and slicing.
Mark Rosenstein, the Asheville chef I followed at the City Market there a few weeks ago, said he learned when in France that a good chef will immediately start a pot of water to boil when he begins his day, to peel tomatoes, or like me, peaches.
First, make a small cross at the bottom of each peach you're gonna peel. I like to work with just four or five peaches at a time, placing them in a pot of boiling water, turning to make sure all sides are submerged, for about a minute. Then, I lift them out and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water. And like magic, most times, the peel will easily slip off the peach, leaving a gorgeous blush of rouge on the flesh. I slice them, and splash with orange juice, or lemon, to keep the color bright. I've been using the new two-sided freezer bags, and lay them flat on the freezer shelf. This winter, I know they'll bring me much pleasure when thawed.