I usually pick up a jar or two of something pickled or jellied at the Shreveport Farmers Market.
The next two Saturdays are great opportunities to load up the pantry with those items as the fresh vegetables wane and the market winds down for the year on Aug. 27. The Bossier City Farmers Market continues each Saturday through Nov. 19. The Shreveport Farmers Market will be back for a fall run beginning Oct. 22.
Last week, I spent a few minutes visiting with Ben and Dorothy Pratt of Natchitoches at their Sugarmakers booth at the Shreveport Farmers Market. The Pratts just may have the biggest variety of canned items for sale at any farmers market any where in the country: 86 different kinds.
“Not all varieties are available all the time,” Ben quickly points out.
Still, there is plenty to choose from each week. Most popular: things like mayhaw jelly, muscadine jelly, fig preserves. If you’ve been around North Louisiana long enough, you’re familiar with those. But I bet you’ll find some new ones at Sugarmakers.
Possum grape jelly? Possum grapes are tiny little berries that grow wild , says Dorothy, a retired licensed practical nurse, who has been canning since she was a little girl.
Or how about cinnamon basil jelly, cantaloupe jam, onion and bacon marmalade., white Zinfandel wine jelly. The list goes on and on including jelly made from obscure berries such as loquats and pyracantha.
And, perhaps, the most interesting according to the Pratts? Monkey butter, a sweet jam made from bananas, coconut and pineapple — from a recipe their niece got in the Phillipines.
The Pratts get up each Saturday at 3 am to come to the market, and they plan to be there for the final two Saturdays. Dorothy and Ben, a retired schoolteacher, have been selling at farmers markets since 2001. They also sell at Cane River Green Market in Natchitoches and have racked up quite a few county and Louisiana State Fair blue ribbons.
I came away with jars of spicy marinated green beans, fig jam and hot jalapeno pepper jelly from Sugarmakers. Over the summer I’ve also stocked up on squash pickles from Angel Farms, spicy zucchini relish from Gethsemane Gardens (they’ve got lots of hummus too) and some lemon basil caponata (eggplant) relish from Cindy Sue’s.
So there are plenty of reasons to head to downtown Shreveport during the last two weekends in August.
I’ve become so interested in growing lettuce that I recently took a trip to Doodley Dee’s, a USDA certified organic aquaponics produce farm in Harrison County, Texas, just over the state line from Shreveport.
You can find their romaine lettuce in salads at Shreveport’s Wine Country, but most all of their produce goes to public school cafeterias in a Texas Farms to School program. Doodley Dee’s does not operate a farm stand, but they expect to sell their lettuce to Whole Foods when it opens in Shreveport this fall. I intend to buy some.
Aquaponics is a system of raising fish — koi in the case of Doodley Dee’s — and using its waste to fertilize the plants, which are grown in water rather than in the field. Farmer Kevin Schmidt, who operates Doodley Dee’s, says aquaponics is eight times more efficient than growing produce in the field.
I’m not getting into aquaponics or commercial production, but I was looking for ideas on growing more lettuce and creating a small rain barrel system. (Doodley Dee’s has an elaborate setup of water wheels, ponds, canals and barrels to capture just about every inch of rain that falls on its property).
You don’t see much lettuce at the farmer’s market (doesn’t grow well in the summer around here). But with the cooler weather this week, I’m getting itchy to plant the organic lettuce seeds that I bought recently. After consulting with the LSU AgCenter, I’ll wait until next month.
We removed our withered tomato plants over the weekend, and the garden spot is bare save for a few herbs and pepper plants. Last winter, I had good luck growing arugula and butter crunch lettuce, so I’m going to give them a try again this fall.
We eat a lot of salads so I’ll use all of what I grow in the garden, buy more at the store and get some Doodley Dee’s when Whole Foods opens (a Mississippi company called Salad Days has a nice assortment of lettuce in the Jackson WF).
I’m glad to discover that lettuce can be grown locally, in a commercial operation like Doodley Dee’s or even in my own backyard garden.
Doodley Dee’s Farm website.Tomatoes and other vegetables are also grown on the farm, and a food forest with fruit trees is also under development. There’s an event venue for meetings, weddings, etc. Check out his YouTube videos on the aquaponics process.
Want to grow your own lettuce? Here’s some helpful information.
We have been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. David and I have already gone through about a dozen. At 92 percent water, watermelon is helping us stay hydrated.
Truth be told, I have just as much luck with seedless watermelons I get at the supermarket as the ones I pick up at farmstands. Luckily, most of the stores in Shreveport get their melons from Texas, so that’s local, depending on what part of Texas they come from.
Still, it is hard for me to pass by a farmer sitting on the tailgate of a 40-year-old truck in the 97-degree heat with a load of them. Sometimes I get a real winner, sweeter than the supermarket ones–like the giant one I got from Ryan Farms in Dixie, Louisiana, earlier this summer and another one we purchased along a south Arkansas back road.
Earlier this week my refrigerator was full, and I had another watermelon on deck (the floorboard of my car). So, I thought it would be fun to experiment with some refreshing watermelon frozen novelties. Surprisingly, there aren’t many watermelon-flavored treats in the supermarket freezer section other than a few made by the Popsicle brand. So I consulted Pinterest and found a few healthy ones to try .
My husband is a watermelon purist and believes eating it any other way but straight is gilding the lily. I sort of agree, but I love ice cream novelties and frozen treats. I’m glad to have some new ones to add to my stash of Push Ups, Nutty Buddies and multiple flavors of Outshine bars.
In the photo above, the treats are as follows going clockwise from the the Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream cone with links to the recipes.
Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream-eating Greek yogurt is perhaps the most significant diet change I have made during the past three years. Multiple blending repeats made this recipe a bit cumbersome for me, but I liked the taste. I used banana to make it creamier as suggested.
Watermelon Ice Pops-these were my favorite. I substituted Splenda for the sugar. Adding lime sherbet for the rind and chocolate chips for the seeds was so much fun! (Why can’t you find lime sherbet in pint containers? Does anybody know?) This recipe says 12 servings, but I only got 6 using the five-ounce cups.
I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.
I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.
But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks. Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.
Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago. The movieThe Helpwas filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.
Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range, another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.
You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.
It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread more typical of a Delta bridal shower.
Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.
When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?
Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.
Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas. You can just about count on 100-degree heat.
Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation, the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill. This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.
Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians. The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.
Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.
Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.
Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.
Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.
If you have a child going off to college this month, chances are you’ll be hauling a bicycle as well as dorm décor to campus. You may want to rethink the bicycle.
That comes from someone who has been around for six to eight move-out days in May and seen the racks full of abandoned bikes. Big schools like LSU have regular bike auctions to at least try to make some money on impounding so many of them.
I have a freshman Schwinn in my garage now that’s never been ridden. What I will suggest is pack up your own bicycle and explore a college campus on two wheels – one your child or younger sibling is attending, your alma mater or one near you.
If you can go early in the morning to beat the heat, August is a great month to bicycle a campus in the quiet before fall semester begins. School breaks – spring, fall and Christmas, also are good times.
Or you can do as my husband and I did a few years ago and choose a busier time. In our case, it was Game Day at Texas A&M, one of the largest campuses in the country.
“Are you kidding?” I asked when he suggested it. We were the only ones on bicycles that day, but It turned out to be a great ride. We got to watch the Corps of Cadets march to the stadium, ride around the academic buildings in peace and sample some of the Game Day atmosphere.
Take some time and explore a campus on two wheels. It doesn’t matter if the college is large or small, I promise you’ll discover something new.
I frequently bicycle around LSU Shreveport, a place where I worked for more than 15 years, and see things that I never noticed driving to work.
A campus doesn’t have to be on this “bike friendly” list to enjoy, but if you are looking for one that fits that description, check this list out.
I expected the 109-year-old Williams Brothers General Store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, to be a museum with a few token items for sale.
And with its ties to the Manning football family, I expected a little memorabilia. In fact, when we rode up to the store last Friday, you would have thought Archie, Peyton and Eli were all inside signing autographs.
Unfortunately for me, they weren’t. What was happening, besides the annual Neshoba County Fair nearby, was tax-free weekend where families could save a little on their back-to-school purchases.
This store is not simply a relic of the past or a shrine to the Mannings. It is a vibrant business with real customers and real customer service.
In 1907, Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning’s great grandfather (on their mother’s side of the family) opened Williams Brothers General Store.
In the grocery section, it’s a tight squeeze as shopping buggies maneuver around the aisles filled with things you would expect in a Southern store–Bryan cold cuts and Sunflower flour, sorghum molasses and Red Man chewing tobacco.
That part of Williams Brothers General Store is much like it was during the 1930s when it was featured in National Geographic magazine. But today’s merchandise mix includes Spanx and women’s designer clothing, local pottery, horse saddles and tack, and a shoe and boot inventory somewhere between Shoe Department and DSW with more customer service.
There’s someone slicing red rind hoop cheese and another slicing slab bacon to order. Mule collars, country hams and Peyton & Eli’s NFL jerseys hang from the ceiling.
The Manning boys helped at the store when they were teenagers, and their memorabilia is scattered throughout the store, but it’s fairly low key. No Peyton bobbleheads or tacky touristy things for sale–just merchandise everyday people need at reasonable prices.
Growing up in Mississippi I knew families who had cabins at the Neshoba County Fair but never got an invitation. I was an adult before I made a day trip there to see then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The Neshoba County Fair at Philadelphia, Mississippi, is a county fair like no other. Sure, there’s a Ferris wheel to ride and candy apples to eat and all, but this is a week-long family reunion where kith and kin bunk down in cabins, and visit with each other on the front porches. For a whole week. In the humid Mississippi heat. Think the week-long extended family vacation to Gulf Shores but without the beach, not even a swimming hole.
No sugar white beaches either, just makeshift sandboxes.
But families love it. It’s the pull of home, state pride and love of community that keeps them coming back to these kitschy cabins year after year during the last week of July.
It may be the last remaining “live-in” fair of its kind left in the United States. The Neshoba County Fair got its start in 1889 when people came in horse and buggy to what was then part church camp meeting and agricultural show. People started out camping in tents and wagons. Later, a few modest cabins were built and then more cabins. Today there are more than 600 family cabins and about that many campsites with enough people to earn the nickname “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty,” a registered trademark of the fair association.
Last Friday, my husband and I got to go for 12 hours. We went with someone who knew someone who has a cabin. My husband, who usually has a rich vocabulary, simply called it the “beatin’est thing” he has ever seen.
“Beatin’est” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but If you need a more in-depth explanation, read this New York Times article done on the Neshoba County Fair several years ago.
We packed in breakfast, a goat show, exhibit hall viewing, fried chicken and green bean eating, side trip to a general store, visiting, tour of some of the cabin neighborhoods, harness racing, more eating, Charlie Daniels Band concert, an hour-long porch nap, fireworks show and more visiting .
It’s a light year for Mississippi state politics, but you would never know it from the signs all around and the elected officials who came to speak. As for national politics, Donald Trump sent his son, Donald Trump Jr., but few presidential candidates have come since Reagan showed up 36 years ago. Unless national politics change, the Neshoba County Fair may never see a major presidential candidate again. Mississippi has been solidly in the Republican camp so there’s no real battle for the state’s six electoral votes.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way