Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.
On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.
Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.
Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”
A recent vacation taught me an unexpected lesson on gratitude.
The vacation itinerary that I drew up for a recent trip that I took with my daughter included a morning drive along the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile route dotted with 30 farm stands in Oregon between the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.
It was prime harvesting season when I was there in October so I envisioned lots of apple picking on a crisp, sun-splashed fall day. Then we’d have lunch at a local winery and enjoy an afternoon of bicycling on America’s original scenic byway. Perhaps we would hike a little of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The only question was how could we choose among those 30 points of interest–fruit stands and berry farms, wineries and cider houses, u-pick apple and pear orchards, lavender farms, an alpaca farm and even a chestnut farm.
The Fruit Loop brochure had me excited as I looked at the farms pictured with blue skies, dahlias in the foreground and snow-capped Mt. Hood in the background. Likewise, the historic Columbia Gorge Highway site had postcard-worthy photos of bicycle trails. I packed a few of the new almond butter-filled Clif bars just to create a photo similar to the one of a cyclist on the package.
But it was not to be. It rained miserably all day. So we didn’t get to bicycle or hike at all. We didn’t ride the Fruit Loop with our windows down and sun roof open as we had hoped. We should have peeked through the sun roof with our umbrella for a amusing photo op, but frankly I was too bummed out.
We did drive along Highway 35 and the side roads that make up the Fruit Loop. We stopped at a few farm stands — Packer Orchards, Apple Valley Country Store & Bakery and Draper Girls Country Farm. We found the best variety at Draper Girls — Pacific Rose, Spice and Pink Pearl to name a few. The latter had a bit of pink in the flesh.
Our adventure for the day: Returning to the Airbnb to watch Reese Witherspoon in “Wild.” And eating some of those apples.
So what was the gratitude lesson?
It took me a while upon returning home, but I reflected on past vacations. On one trip to the beach, rain was forecast every day of the week–we almost cancelled our condo. But as it turned out, it rained none of the days we were there.
We did experience a downpour three years ago during one of the vacation days in New York City, but that was one day of rain, four days of sunshine. (And can you really whine on a rainy day in New York when that means spending it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?)
On my rough scorecard of vacations past, I’m averaging about 9 out of 10 sunny days. Was I as grateful for those as I was complaining about my rainy October trip to Washington and Oregon?
From now on, I’m going to start vacations with less of an entitlement mindset about the weather. Then, when a vacation day is wrapped in sunshine, maybe I’ll treat it like a gift.
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’m lucky enough to live less than two miles away from Gullo’s Fresh Produce & Classic Bake Shop on Flournoy Lucas in Shreveport. Last year, I had to go the entire summer without Gullo’s as it had to rebuild from a fire.
I’m thankful a renovated Gullo’s Fresh Produce opened earlier this year. It includes an enclosed dining room so you don’t have to eat outside on the patio or under the pecan tree in the July heat.
I like to pop in from time to time when I need a few tomatoes, peppers or some other veggies. I usually leave with more than I intended — a jar of green tomato pickles or some locally made toffee.
There’s also “to go” casseroles and salads in the refrigerator and some baked goods.
But the real draw is the hot lunch menu. They are known for their hamburgers on sourdough buns that have frequently been included in Best Hamburger in Shreveport, even Best Hamburger in Louisiana lists. We went the other day. I was good and got the salad with chicken, Thankfully, my husband shared significant bites of his Friday special–hamburger steak, squash, braised cabbage (my favorite), sweet potatoes and homemade roll.
The new Gullo’s Fresh Produce has evening hours and and is open Sundays. And according to Gullos Facebook page, they are planning a Gullo’s #2 in downtown Shreveport.
Since living in Louisiana, a jaunt to Mitcham’s Peach Farm in Ruston is as sure a summer thing as white sandals, long days and 100 plus heat indexes.
I’ve been known to make three trips to Ruston in one week for peaches, and that was before the Mitchams added the ice cream and peach store several years ago.
With so many farmers markets to shop and my busy schedule, I now limit myself to one good trip to Mitcham’s a year. Since it’s only one time a year, I feel entitled to a big soft serve peach ice cream cone. When I was growing up my family had a small peach orchard, a side business to our dairy. Our dairy made ice cream when I was very little, but we never sold peach ice cream.
As far as peaches go. I’d recommend buying the biggest peaches they have, which are usually in those gift boxes and may cost more than $2 a peach. On the day I went earlier this month, they didn’t have those so I got a large bucket for $25 with about 25 peaches. They also sell overripes good for cooking.
You’ll also want to call to see if they have peaches available that day. I just checked their Facebook page today, and it said they won’t have any until later this week.
When I was at Mitcham’s earlier this month, I was more observant about other things for sale. In the peach shed, tomatoes, blueberries and shelled peas were available. There were also some lush ferns reasonably priced at $10 each.
In their farm store, which is open year round, there are many peach products — not only jams, jellies and salsas but bath products, peach cookware, gift baskets and other things. They have yummy salsa and pepper jelly from the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, peach tea and peach lemonade.
And, then I found a really unexpected item — ammunition. I haven’t fully investigated, but I doubt that many places outside North Louisiana sell fresh peaches and ammo.
Mitcham’s is about 70 miles east of Shreveport. On I-20, take the Grambling exit #81. Go north on Highway 149. Take a right on Garr Road and keep right on Highway 544. Shortly you’ll see a sign and Mitcham Orchard Road on the left. Follow that to the peach shed and store.
You can read about a previous trip I took to The Tomato Place here.
The best way to describe the atmosphere at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg is a cross between Caribbean smoothie bar and Mississippi produce stand.
If you can’t image what that is like, I understand. You are just going to have to go experience The Tomato Place yourself. Owner Luke Hughes was interviewed by some publication, and said it takes four visits to know what this place is about. I just got back from my fourth visit so I guess I know a thing or two.
It is a farm stand selling tomatoes and other produce. Plus, there’s lunch where BLTs are the best sellers. But there’s also such entrees as catfish platters and grilled salmon. And, then there are smoothies—that and the bright colors around the place are where the Caribbean comes in.
My first visit to The Tomato Place last October was a quick stop. I’m not a regular smoothie fan so I passed. Next time, I got a natural plum smoothie and have become hooked. I’ve also had the apple blackberry, and it was great too.
The lunches I had also were wonderful, although I’ll warn you that the service is leisurely. I had a BLT club and pound cake a week ago, and earlier I had chicken salad and the pork skins that are fried on site. They come to the table crackling hot with a cup of The Tomato Place’s signature product, Mississippi Fever, a liquidy pepper jelly.
Tomatoes and watermelons were from Smith County, Mississippi. Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and Lake Providence, Louisiana. If you poke around the nooks and crannies, you will find an eclectic merchandise mix — grits and popcorn, local artwork, jazz CDs and fedoras.
I went outside and got Luke to pose for a picture and was struck by this purple petunia against the faded red painting on a shed. The Tomato Place is a cluster of sheds and shacks
Uncle Si and the folks at Duck Dynasty have been by for a show, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting did an interesting segment on The Tomato Place, which you can view here.
Tomatoes and BLTs are the best sellers, but the smoothies are what I will go back for. I don’t want to ever cross the Mississippi River into my home state without swinging down to The Tomato Place and getting one.
The Tomato Place is on U.S. Highway 61 South, about four miles south of Vicksburg. thetomatoplace.com
I was in the Jackson, Mississippi area over the July 4 weekend and got to visit the dueling farmers markets less than two miles apart in downtown Jackson.
It’s a long story that has something to do with one market allowing peaches from Alabama and the other not. And then some rules changed, but vendors did not want to move. I’ll spare you more details, but I enjoyed both of them and bought tomatoes — and a few other things — from both.
They each have strengths. The old one on Woodrow Wilson has just a few big vendors and a more classic open air farmer’s market look. The newer one at the state fairgrounds is indoors with more mom and pop farmers.
On my way to pick up a bicycle in Mineola, Texas, last month, I passed Duck Creek Produce on U.S. 69 north of Lindale. The phonetic spelling of vegetables got my attention, and I had to stop.
Apparently, it’s creative marketing that has attracted not only highway passengers but notables such as comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who posted about it on his Facebook page. You can read more about Duck Creek Produce here.
On different days the sign may tout Qcomeburs or Hallopinyos.
In the photo above I was trying to figure out the sign. Does it say “Lois Aggie Onion?” I wondered. No, it was straightforward. The “1015 Aggie Onion” is a super sweet onion developed by a Texas A&M horticulture professor.
We bought some and also picked up a jar of peppers and some jelly. We passed on the tomatoes because we have plenty in our backyard, but they looked good. Much of the produce is grown on a farm right behind the stand.
Owner Jack Roach, who has farmed the area for more than 40 years, didn’t want his picture made. And, frankly I found the “No Change” sign a little off-putting. We made sure we had the exact amount for our purchases.
But judging from the phonetic signs (including this one near the check out — any one item $1), I’d say Farmer Jack must have a friendly side with a sense of humor.
I’m usually a regular at the Shreveport Farmers Market, but sometimes you can’t beat driving to a produce stand in the country, where you can actually see the peach trees that bore the fruit you are buying.
The other day, I drove to Coushatta, about 45 miles south of Shreveport, where I couldn’t stop at one. I went to four farmstands. Well, they all weren’t actually in the town of Coushatta but in the nearby places of Armistead and Ajax.
It had been awhile since I had been to Ed Lester Farms, and I had forgotten how beautiful the setting is – on the west bank of the Red River, shaded by a 300-year-old oak tree flanked by lush caladiums. Classical music played on speakers as people of all types – driving everything from Ford Focuses to Range Rovers — bagged tomatoes and squash. Ed Lester Farms has been written up in Southern Living as one of the best produce stands in the South.
A sign on a trailer bed said “Very New Potatoes.” How new? We were there at 11 am, and much of the produce had been hauled in from the field at 8 am that day. (We didn’t do our part in cooking them that same night, but they still tasted fresh even a week later). You have to go when the produce is fresh as this market’s season only lasts from late May through July.
Ed Lester’s family has been working the rich soil since 1850. The produce stand has been around since 1960.
Anderson Farms is also a big operation and a pretty place as well. They also sell at the Shreveport Farmers Market. You can buy bedding plants and ferns there too. I loved watching young butterflies flutter around in the zinnia patch in front of Anderson’s.
En route between Ed Lester Farms and Andersons, we found M & R Produce at the crossroads of US Hwy 84, US Hwy 371 and Louisiana 1. And we checked it out too. We continued down some country roads (directions and map below) to Anderson’s. After stopping there, we kept going a little farther across I-49 and into Natchitoches Parish, where we discovered Mim’s Snack Shop and Produce.
Mim was out front and pointed to a plum tree a few yards to the west that produced some of the fruit he was selling. There were homegrown tomatoes and other things, even a bargain table. The watermelons were from Florida then, but it was early in the season, and he assured me they would be local in a few weeks. There’s a hot lunch six days a week and barbecue Wednesday-Saturday.
We really enjoyed spending the better part of the day in Coushatta, and I recommend it to you. If you are expecting quaint small town, you need to lower your expectations. Coushatta is like a Mississippi Delta town with poverty and empty storefronts downtown. Sunbeam used to have a plant there that made household irons, but that closed 20 years ago. Haynesville shale natural gas drilling has helped, but, that too, is currently in a slump.
But Coushatta still has agriculture, and It’s worth going there for the farmstands alone. But, there are a few more lures. Here are a couple:
Hamburgers. We stopped at Bailey’s Sandwich Shop downtown. (I guess they have other sandwiches. I did not look at the menu as I did not want to spend all of my Weight Watchers points.) My husband raved about the hamburger and wondered why he had waited 30 years to return there. Yes, it has been around at least that long. Bailey’s dining area is modest – one picnic table under the rusting roof and another one in the sun. We were lucky to secure the shady one as most patrons are locals who get theirs to go. There’s another place not far from Baileys called Shellie’s Sandwich Shop. I ate there a year ago when I wasn’t dieting, and the hamburger was great.
Nichols: Coushatta is one of five locations of Nichols Department Store, a family-owned retailer that has been operating since 1914 and, for that, I think they deserve a round of applause. The other places are in towns that few outside of Louisiana have heard of: Many (corporate headquarters), Leesville, DeQuincy, DeRidder and Winnfield. The merchandise mix is a lot of Bass Pro shop with a little of Hobby Lobby home décor, small town hardware store and a tad Five & Dime. Firearms and a bridal registry. Yeti coolers and off-brand lemon cookies. There is no Wal-Mart in Coushatta, so it is great to see such a well-stocked locally-owned store. My husband bought some ammunition, and I bought a Louisiana-shaped cutting board.
Driving around, there’s a few more stores that grabbed my attention – a locally-owned supermarket, another store called Maxway, and a place downtown called Jolie’s Vintage, which I really wanted to explore but they are not open on Mondays when we were there.
From Shreveport, take I-49. Exit 162 and head northeast toward Coushatta on Hwy 371. You’ll find (1) Ed Lester Farms on the right before reaching town. Turn left from Ed Lester parking lot and head west until you reach the crossroads of Hwy 371, Hwy 84 and LA 1. You’ll find (2) M&R Produce there. Head south on LA 1 for 4.6 miles, then turn right on Catfish Bend Road. Take that for 3.6 miles to Highway 174. Head west on 174 for about two miles and you’ll see (3) Anderson’s Produce on the right. Continue on Hwy 174 past I-49 and (4) Mim’s is on the right.
“What I want to do is savor this life–my life, my children, my community, this gorgeous world God created. … to walk through each day expecting and noticing those glints and shimmers of the divine right in the daily–in a hug, a tomato sandwich, a quiet moment, a text from someone we love. — Shauna Niequist, Savor introduction
I mostly stick to food blogs and trusted sources for recipes–family members, Southern Living, Pioneer Woman.
But sometimes recipes turn up in odd places. At one time even my car salesman was mailing out recipes! And now, you find them at the end of a mystery novel chapter or tucked in devotional books.
In fact, there’s a whole genre of culinary mystery fiction. I recently read Joanne Fluke’s Double Fudge Brownie Murder, which may explain a spring lull in my Weight Watchers losing.
I heard Shauna Niequist speak recently and read her books, Bread and Wine and Cold Tangerines. This month I started her devotional book Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are.
In Savor, she mixes recipes in with her devotions. One of June’s is this Summer Salad, which includes tomatoes and other ingredients that can be picked up at the farmer’s market. I had never used raw corn in a salad but tried it and liked it. There’s no dressing so all you taste is the freshness of the ingredients.