Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Seven years ago, I married and moved with my husband to his home-town Tallahassee. Until then, I'd been a bit of a transatlantic nomad; my rather homogenized accent picked up and dumped flavor without loyalty. Shortly after I began work in my new town, a co-worker came into staff-meeting with a container full of mixed green and purple orbs the size of large "boulder" marbles. I inquired, and she replied in her slow, smoky drawl, "Skuffinnahves."

"Uh, ... what was that?"
She nodded,"Skuffinnahves."

Even as a fellow American, I was a foreigner as I encountered this new word and struggled to sort pronunciation from spelling. She invited me to try one. I selected a green one. My teeth sank through thick, tart, leathery skin into cool, gelatinous, grape-candy flesh and finally crushed astringent, slightly bitter seeds. As odd as it may sound to locals, I felt like I'd landed on the moon.

A mission to find more quickly turned up plenty of labeled containers of "Scuppernong" and "Muscadine" grapes. Scupp-er-nong. Skuffinnahves. Last night, after finding scuppernongs at New Leaf and remembering my introduction to the fruit, I asked Matt if he'd ever heard the word pronounced this way. No, he hadn't.

These fat grapes have a love-it-or-hate-it flavor often described as "musky" or "foxy." Some prefer to split the skins (which are thick and can be bracingly astringent) and eat only the clear, sweet pulp. Personally, I enjoy the contrasts of sour and sweet and leathery and slippery. The purple grapes (muscadines) are sweeter than the green, and they're best when they've ripened and softened slightly past their taut fullness. Muscadines are on my "sexy foods" list.

Scuppernongs grow wild in parts of the South. I remember seeing them hanging unripe from vines all around Tallulah Gorge near Atlanta. Do they also grow wild here? There is a vexing weed that grows here, that looks remarkably like the scuppernong vine but does not produce the fruit.

I found these suppernongs from Ladybird Organics/ Monticello Vinyards at New Leaf yesterday. New Leaf also sometimes carries the local farm's muscadine jelly, sunflower sprouts, and eggs.

I'm told that New Leaf carries Monticello Vinyard's muscadine wine for a day, or an hour -- blink and it's gone. One can also order it online from the Ladybird Organics/Monticello Vinyard's website. I vaguely remember hearing or reading that you can pick your own grapes there sometimes. The farm also boasts persimmons, pecans, satsumas, marsh grapefruit, meyer lemons, and microgreens. Visit the website for more information.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fig Preserves, Sunshine in a Jar

I live in a house which is almost one hundred and fifty years old. It sits on a strangely shaped piece of property measuring a little over two acres. On this property we have some of the most amazingly majestic live oaks I've ever seen, too much bamboo, lots of native flowering bushes, quite a few pecan trees and assorted other things like hydrangea, azalea and magnolia.

There is, however, a startling lack of fruit trees if you don't count the pecans and I don't because we get virtually no nuts off of them. That's probably our fault, but neither here nor there in this conversation.

I am certain that over the years, there must have been blueberry bushes, mulberry trees, peach trees, fig trees, sand pears, and so forth. Folks must eat! We are trying, slowly, to reintroduce some of these things to the property but they are mostly slow-growing and so we must depend on generous friends and U-Pick places for the fruit we like to eat and preserve.

Yesterday I had just gotten a message from a friend whose fig trees are in overdrive, inviting me to come pick when my husband called, saying a co-worker had brought us in a large bag of figs.

Time to make preserves!

Fig preserves are one of my favorites. First of all, the fruit is just so...well, darnit, sensuous. No wonder it's an age-old symbol of fertility. How can a fruit be so male and yet so female at the same time? Or is that just me?

According to a quick Google, I find that figs were probably one of the first fruits ever cultivated by people. References to them can be found in the Bible and in the mythology of many cultures. I'm not surprised.

The figs I have in my possession today are, I believe, the Celeste variety. Small and purplish brown with a luscious almost-coral inner flesh, they grow quite well in our area.

I've had the recipe that I use for fig preserves for so long that I can't remember where I got it, but I think it was from a very, very old cook book. It's the kind of recipe I like- simple, direct, and to the point. I cook my figs whole, rather than cutting them up, and add a few lemons to the mix to add that sour spark that makes the sometimes almost too-sweet flavor of the fig pick right up and dance.

The pleasure we'll have in opening a jar of these preserves next winter, spooning out some of the figs to mash on a fresh biscuit and pouring over some of the sweet syrup, is quite enough to rationalize the time and money that goes into making them. Let's face it- it's cheaper to buy fig preserves than make them, but that's hardly the point.

Here's the recipe I use:
Fig Preserves
4 lbs. fresh figs
2 lemons, sliced very thin and seeded
4 cups of sugar
1 cup of water

Wash figs and cut any stems. Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes.
Add figs and lemons. Cook rapidly until clear.
Seal in clean, hot jars, process in boiling water canner for fifteen minutes.
Makes 3 pints.

Please watch your figs as they boil because if you go off to do something (like write a blog) and ignore them as they boil, you will walk into your kitchen to find something of a huge mess.

Also, when you measure out your sugar, you might find yourself thinking, "Golly, this is more sugar than my family uses in a year!"

True, but, sugar is part of the preservation process and so necessary in this recipe. Console yourself with the idea that you will be eating small amounts of the resulting sweet goodness. Then, do your very best to avoid the temptation to just take a spoon to the jar. Add some whole wheat and flax seed to your pancakes or biscuits and when you are eating them with these preserves, you can almost believe you're doing something good for your body, despite all the sugar.

You will certainly be doing something good for your soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Market Bag

Surf N Turf
In the rippling heat of early dog-days, the bounty continues. The faithful year-round growers display July's ratatouille kaleidescope: tomatoes and peppers (diverse), garlic, shallots, eggplant, squash, basil tips. Also arugula, honey, collard greens, corn, kale, sprouts, cut flowers.

The handful of back-yard growers that comes during the summer months offer zipper peas, okra, cucumbers, blueberries, figs, potatoes, watermelons, other things. Van Lewis is there with his beautiful clams. My market bag is heavy.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I arrived at New Leaf Market just as a basket of small golden figs from a local farm was set out. The figs were so utterly, perfectly ripe that the mere gentle touch required to pluck them one-at-a-time from the basket and place them delicately into a bag, was enough to break the skin of many. Burdened and bruised by their own weight in that basket at the co-op, perched just outside of the refrigerated produce display, they would be discolored, oozing and moldy by the next day. For figs, the time between glorious, bursting zenith of life and decay into earth-food is very short. I took as many as I thought my family and friends could eat (about half of the basket), and hoped that someone else would take the rest before the end of the day.

Monday, July 9, 2007


"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." -- Chinese Proverb.

"Go forth and multiply." -- God.

Impossible to do both? I really want to know where you stand.

Slow Food USA's most recent edition of The Snail is dedicated entirely to the impossible conundrum of sustainable fish. If you're living in North Florida and you love your local seafood, you'll be disappointed to know that Slow Food's short list of seafood to avoid (in the name of sustainability and health) includes two of your beloved favorites: red snapper and grouper. If you have deep pockets or a good hankering, you can still purchase these at just about any seafood counter or seafood shack boasting "Fresh from Florida" seafood. Local fishermen and the Florida seafood industry get a reprieve (at least for a while), and you get to eat snapper and grouper every day (but your grandchildren won't).

Louise was telling me about her personal local favorite -- redfish. She gets all sparkley-eyed when she's talking about them, but apparently I may never even taste one -- they're so scarce that the legal limit is one fish per harvester per day.

Some of the little fellas, namely Gulf shrimp (farmed or wild) and farmed clams and oysters are apparently doing fine and are not hurting anyone or anything -- good news for shellfish lovers. Perhaps stone-crabs. Perhaps blue crabs. Little fellas who are not doing fine: our local bay scallops. Who else? Someone fill me in.

Mr. Lewis, how are the mullet doing these days? How are our local fishermen?

And where the heck do I go to buy good local fish? I overheard people at the market talking about how fish is flown in from afar to our nearby fishing villages. Justin Timineri said that Southern Seafood is a good place to start if I want honest, good local seafood (I guess I just have to say "no" to grouper and snapper). What about Mike's Seafood (anyone know)? I know I can buy sustainably farmed clams at Clamalot. Can I go to any of the cinder-shacks from here to Apalachicola and be sure that I'm getting good, clean, fair, and local seafood?

Who can give us a good picture of the FISH issue at home on the Florida Panhandle?

And, once again, I really want to know where you stand.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

redefining the perfect tomato

i am always on a quest for amazing + delicious food -- at times, without even realizing it! although, quite honestly, these days i mostly know it.. i have come to the realization that i am mildly obsessed with food. i am constantly analyzing foods that i eat to understand their flavors and what makes them delish (or, sadly, decidedly not delish) and then thinking about how i will recreate that dish. although most people vow to return to said place and buy the dish again, i usually end up on a bender to recreate the dish myself (or possibly with the assistance of unsuspecting husband and/or friends to help out). practically without conscious, i am pondering "how is this made? ... how can i make this??" leading to a possible "this would be so great with a little ----- added." such thoughts are notoriously followed by "we can make that!" it's practically the first thought that pops into my head upon food enjoyment.

only, some things just cannot be recreated in the kitchen... the whole, fresh, unprocessed foods is what i have in mind here. if you read about food (and you do because you are here reading this blog... or, you are related to me or a dear friend reading only to be supportive... hi mom! <3), you already know that you need to start with the best ingredients you can get your hands on... you cannot make great food with less than great ingredients.. yada yada. we are lucky to have a few growers' markets and wonderful farmers who bring us fabulous produce such as this tomato:

i think that this is a perfect tomato. sure, it's not the first "perfect" tomato image that would pop into your mind, nor one that you'd draw -- most likely not the tomato of most photographs. but, perhaps that's less the fault of this delicious tomato and more a result of our unrealistic expectations for "perfect"-looking uniform foods. really... what's uniform about the natural world? i think that this tomato is amazing looking! it has great lines and an interesting shape that remind me of great art. for me, also key to enjoyment is its source; i got this tomato at the farmers' market saturday, directly from the wonderful turkey hill farm stand. it was grown without pesticides, and... it tastes lovely! really, those should be the real bottom lines -- taste + source. this tomato was a rich, brilliant red all the way to its core and oh-so-juicy -- as you can see in the photo. tomatoes are plentiful at the moment around here... savor a perfect tomato before they're gone for the season.