“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” Brenda Schoepp, Pinterest
My how things have changed from the time mentioned in the quote above! Used to be most people ate at home with their families, three meals a day. In the country and in most small towns, gardening and canning were survival skills. Now we rely on industrial agriculture for most of our food needs and the other professions mentioned are more integrated in our lives as well.
Stepping away from supermarkets and packaged foods to grow your own fruits and vegetables is a fairly radical act anymore and creating healthy soils and ecosystems requires diligence and time. This year, luckily, the weather has cooperated. Spring warmed early and rains were moderate, summertime’s intense heat is gradual in coming, with regular rains keeping things moist and cool.
At the farmers market, I see zucchini, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other favorites. Everything looks so fresh and vibrant and the growers are there with much care and knowledge about their food. Talking with a vendor the other day, we came to an interesting observation: We noticed that most people coming to shop at the market seemed to be gardeners themselves (either currently or in the past). They were looking for certain specific flavors; they were eager to handle and cook the fresh vegetables.
We wondered, what would bring young parents, who care about their children’s health, to market? Or older folks who are dealing with some kind of health issue? Is it true that most people don’t cook from scratch? Don’t have time to shop from more than one market? Limit vegetables to corn and tomatoes? And what about those local chefs–women and men who love to cook—would they not have fun experimenting with food varieties not found in stores?
Of course, we reached no conclusions but it did inspire me to share some of my favorite ways to use the abundance of interesting summer produce:
First off, fruit. June, July and August I make a lot of blender smoothies. A good base can be any combination of melons or berries. Then I add some superfoods like: flax seed, presoaked chia seed, cacao and hemp powders. After that, it’s liquid to the top of the solid foods and then about another 1/3 of liquid. If I want to emphasize the protein, I’ll use soymilk or yoghurt and/or a tablespoon of nutbutter. What I prefer about this kind of smoothie over, say, a juice mix is that it doesn’t require a fancy blender and the fiber is incorporated. I didn’t mention any sweetener because I usually do not need one but honey, agave or other natural, complex sweetener adds lovely flavor, for sure.
OK, a few hours after the smoothie, when we start to crave more substantial food, I will get out the wok (or a fry pan). Almost any vegetable can be stir fried and it’s best to start with the ones that take longer, like root crops. Then the cabbages, zucchini, tomatoes, followed by onions and garlic; and finally the leafy greens. Not saying every vegetable in the house needs to go in the stir fry. You can make it as simple or complex as suits your fancy. And, herbs such as thyme, rosemary, fennel, turmeric, curry, dill, etc will enhance the meal. Nuts like pecans or cashews, seeds like pumpkin or sesame can bring in more nutrients still. And what about the oil? Go with moderate amounts to start the frying and then, as things want to stick to the pan, add other kinds of liquids—soy sauce, leftover pasta sauce, lemon-water, etc. I use olive oil a lot but am gaining appreciation for coconut oil of late. I recommend staying away from vegetable oils as, anymore, they are made from gmo corn and soybeans and, I believe, the cottonseed oil in them is gmo as well.
The last super duper summertime meal I want to share is soup! Yes soup is a great vehicle for all those vegetables. I recently was gifted with a crock pot and I now use it several times a week. For instance, harvest potatoes, throw a few in the crock pot. Add onions, garlic, curry and greens, maybe a little seaweed for trace minerals and salty flavor. On another day, I might start out with lentils or beans and add eggplant, tomatoes, okra or other fleshy vegetables. Depending on the amount of liquid added, the meal can be a light soup, a hardy stew or anything in between. If you like meat, I have found it is best to add it after the vegetables have softened. There is a mystique to crock pots but really they are extremely easy to use.
So those are some ideas of what to do with the fresh fruits and vegetables that abound this time of year. Next month we are likely to start seeing some declines in our gardens from insect and disease pressures so enjoy the harvests now and put up what you can for later! Happy Homecooking!
Gigi Wahba is a devoted organic gardener with a deep appreciation for the wonders of nature. She also manages the Memphis Farmers Market which runs Thursdays 3-6pm at the Courthouse Square.