Fresh Black-eyed peas

Black-eyed peas
Fresh field peas - black-eyes, crowder, whiteacre, etc.- seem particularly and peculiarly southern. And fresh black-eyes are the most extreme. I don't know where else you could find them except the south, in late summer and early fall. 

While some folks were traumatized as children by the forced labor of shelling peas, I have only happy memories of it. Because I spent the majority of my growing-up years in south Florida (which was full of "Yankees" at the time), the only time I saw these peas was at my grandmothers' homes in north Florida. It seemed special to me, something just the older members of my family and other folks from the backwoods of Florida did. Seeing these peas at the market brings back their raw smell as you pop open the shell, the feel of the filmy cover between the peel and the seed, and the plunk of the peas in the metal bowl. I can almost feel my feet dangling off the end of the porch swing... 

Anyway, I bought me some peas and cooked them up for the "Cafe" on Monday. Here's the recipe:


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced and peeled sweet potato
A handful of chopped greens (we used mustards this week)
1 1/2 cups fresh black-eyed peas
3 cups water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups chopped, undrained canned tomatoes
Grated cheese and/or an ice cream scoop of rice on top (opt.)

Sauté the chopped onions in olive oil till tender and translucent. Stir in salt, coriander, and cumin. Add sweet potatoes, greens, and black-eyed peas and cover with about 3 cups water or vegetable stock (or enough to cover and allow space to boil). Bring to boil, then simmer till vegetables are tender (15 minutes or so). Add canned tomatoes and adjust salt. 

Serve with grated cheese and/or a scoop of rice - and plenty of pepper sauce

Summer Beans and Rice Salad

Summer beans and rice
Trying to eat healthy and local during a Gainesville summer is a challenge. It's too hot to grow much,and the farmers market reflect it. Thank goodness for muscadines, boiled peanuts, mangoes, watermelon, and blueberries!

Fortunately, there are also nutritious cherry tomatoes and peppers still coming in as well. Tossed with good old beans and rice and a little Super Salad Dressing, they make a pretty and healthy dinner.

Summer Beans and Rice Salad

  • 2 cups of rice mixed with 1 or 2 cups of cooked beans (I used black beans and basamati rice mixed with the last of the wild rice from our trip to Minnesota.)
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
  • 1/4 cup mango
  • A sprinkling of scissored chives and/or mint leaves
  • Super Salad Dressing (1/2 rice vinegar, 1/2 vegetable oil, a little salt)

Mix it together, and you've got yourself a simple, meal for a hot summer night. Especially good with a side of watermelon or grapes.

Summertime Goat Cheese Pizza

Goat cheese pizza 2
We celebrated a birthday this weekend with children and adult guests, and we knew pizza would be appreciated. What a simple, delicious use of market veggies this time of year! It's quick to prepare, quick to cook in the heat - and we even used local goat cheese for our very local pizza.


1 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cups warm water
1 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
About 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


A sprinkling of olive oil
Four-six ounces of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 or 2 large ripe red tomatoes, sliced
1 green bell pepper,sliced
1 or 2 jalapenos, minced
A dozen whole basil leaves
5 ounces goat cheese
greek olives, opt.
a sprinkle of dried oregano if you have it

Measure 1 cups of flour into mixing bowl. Mix in yeast, salt, and sugar. Add water and olive oil and whisk together thoroughly. Add remaining flour one-half cup at a time, switching whisk for a wooden spoon as the dough thicken. Finally, abandon the spoon and use your hands, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from becoming sticky. Knead for 8-10 minutes and set aside. 

Slice tomatoes and peppers, mince jalapenos, and separate leaves from basil stems. Preheat oven to 450. Oil pan (cookie sheet, jelly roll pan, official pizza pan, etc. - I used a 14" round pizza pan) and then roll out the dough to fit. Sprinkle dough very lightly with olive oil and spread over the crust with your flat hand. Lightly spread the pizza sauce on top. Arrange tomato slices, peppers, basil, and olives (and whatever else you've got). Flatten pinches of goat cheese over the veggies. Bake for 10-15 minutes on the middle rack. 

One of the beauties of pizza is that you can top it with what you've got - add eggplant in the summer, squash in the spring, cherry tomatoes if you've got them, rosemary instead of basil... Leave off the spaghetti sauce for a more adult version. Leave off the jalapenos for the kids. Use local cheeses if you can, and vary them; there's no law that says it must be mozzarella. I'm impressed that so many cultures have some type of flat bread and veggie dish - from matzo and charoset, to pita and falafel, to tortilla and refries, to nan and lentils. Enjoy making your own Gainesville version!

Sweet fruit of the vine, and of our sandy soil. Hallelujah.

Fruit of the vine, and of the summer soil
Just when my patience with summer heat was about to dry up completely, I walked in to the local market and saw the first of the summer muscadines. Oh yes. Their sweet, cool particularity (they are unlike any other fruit, including other grapes) - combined in a snack with the salty warmth of fresh boiled peanuts - may get me through this near record-breaking heat. 

Here's more on why you, too, should love muscadines, and how you can boil your own peanuts. These are both best eaten from a bowl balanced on your belly while you are floating in an innter tube in a cold spring. 

Happy Dog Days of Summer! 

"Rustic" Blueberry Pie

Lots of blues
This was a great year for blueberries! We harvested some from the new bushes in the front yard garden, and have been buying local ones non-stop since early June. I love them so much raw, I rarely cook with them, preferring mixing them up with chopped watermelon, stirring them into yogurt, or just popping them in my mouth at regular intervals. 

We had a special occasion last night though - welcoming back a friend who had been away - so the time was ripe, so to speak. I love making pies and blueberries lend themselves to the traditional lattice-type. But I was in a hurry so I did the pastry the quick way or, you might say, the "rustic" way - or even the French way - as in gallettes. Regardless, it tasted good. 

It's by no means healthy though - definitely a celebration food! About the time I finally mastered my family's famous pie crust recipe, substituting shortening for lard, it became clear that shortening was no improvement health-wise. So, now I'm using good old butter. You still have to fiddle with the amount of ice water (yes, it must be iced) before rolling it out, and be careful about the dough sticking, but the rest is easy. And, ahhhh, it is good - if a bit on the fat/caloric side.

Blueberry rustic pie-tart
Ingredients for Pastry

  • 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold from the fridge
  • 1/8-1/4 cup ice water

Mix and Roll Out the Pastry
Mix together dry ingredients. Grate butter with a cheese grater into the mixture. Cut butter into flour with two knives or a pastry cutter (if you're going to make more than one pie in your life, this tool is essential). When the butter is so well combined with the flour mixture that the whole thing looks like cornmeal or sand, then slowly add the ice water. Mix together with a fork until mixture begins to hold together. Pat together into a ball. Flour your surface (table, counter, board) and gently roll out crust so that it is two inches larger than your pie plate. Gently place in the pie plate. Put the whole thing in the fridge while you mix the filling.

Blueberry (or any berry) Filling

  • Approximately 2 cups of berries (for average pie pan, but more may be needed if you have a larger pan)
  • granulated sugar to taste - most recipe books suggest 1/4-1/2 cup sugar per pint (2 cups) of berries, but taste it first.
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons white flour - to help thicken it; adjust for the amount of berries you have.
  • A squeeze of lemon.

Make it and Bake it
Pour the berry mixture into the crust and fold the crust over it, creasing it as you go (see photo). Moisten the folds to insure it doesn't unfold itself as it bakes, spilling the content. I've suggested baking it in the pie pan to prevent that, but you can still get blueberries swimming around the outside of the crust if you're not careful. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then check its progress. If the berries are not bubbling, turn it down to 350 and bake for another 15 minutes or so until they are. If you let it cool, you can slip it out of the pan and serve it "rustically" on a pretty plate. Or not. We ate it so fast, no one really noticed the pan. But I thought it was pretty - especially with a little powdered sugar.

Enjoy! It's July and those berries are running out fast!

Blueberry rustic pie-tart 2

Well-known cure for the summertime blues

Watermelon 3
The true southern watermelon is a boon apart and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief among this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, [s]he knows what the angels eat." - Mark Twain

One of our cafe volunteers, a college student, asked me the other day if I thought that local honey had a particular medicinal quality to it. Honestly, I have not idea. But the notion that the world might be constructed in such a way that things that grow nearby are efficacious for some of our local woes (spiderwort sap for ant bites, aloe for sunburn, and citrus for winter colds come to mind) rings at least possibly true. 

Cracking open a little seedless watermelon the other day reminded me of this. Could there possibly be a more perfect fruit for this heat and humidity? It's practically all water! And it's subtly sweet, beautiful to look at, and grows really well here. 

Watermelon is believed to have originated in Africa, and by 6000 BC it was being cultivated in Egypt. Moorish invaders introduced it to Europe and Asia during the 11th century.  By the early 16th century, it was widely cultivated in southern Europe as a garden crop. African slaves and European colonists introduced it to the Americas, and by the mid-sixteenth century, Native Americans and Spanish settlers were growing them in their gardens in our part of Florida. 

"Chucking watermelon" has been a summer job for strong teenagers in these parts for ages. A slow moving pickup rides through the fields while workers snap the vine and gently throw (chuck) the watermelon from person to person until it is placed gently in the back of the truck. I have seen this process reverse itself at Wards when a pick-up backs up to the produce doors and the hand-to-hand chucking propels the watermelon into bins awaiting customers. They usually don't wait too long. I have seen people approach the farmers in the lot as they pull in wanting to buy straight off the truck. 

My father's people used to float them in the spring-fed lakes to keep them cool and we floated them in our backyard pool as a child (not so sure about the pool chemicals...). But  most of us have large enough refrigerators these days to cool them off. I find it convenient sometimes to go ahead and cut up the watermelon and put the pieces in bowls that fit more easily on refrigerator shelves. But it is still fun to eat it outside by the slice like southern kids (and native Americans, and Spanish colonists, and English gardeners, and Asian growers, and African gatherers) have been doing since the beginning of time. Good for our dehydrated, over-heated summertime bodies, and good for the soul for sure. 

Watermelon kids
Kids at our old house - Memorial Day 2008

Frittata - perfect spring vegetable container

Raw ingredients mid-may
Just about everything that can grow in this region is being harvested right now - the last of the cool weather crops, the first of the warm. We had a lovely assortment to put to use for Wednesdays cafe: chard, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, radishes, kohlrabi, potatoes, onions, dill, carrots . . . plus eight dozen eggs from Springhead Farm, some cheese from the food bank, and Kelley's fabulous goat cheese. 

What to do?  Well, first we made a salad - grating the kohlrabi, radishes, and carrots tossing with the mixed lettuce (Mrs. Carlysle put beautiful nasturtiums in hers!) and goat cheese - sprinkling with our house dressing (1 part rice vinegar, 1 part vegetable oil, a little salt sometimes shaken in an almost empty jam jar or maple syrup bottle). 

Then we made refrigerator pickles, slicing the cukes into slivers, mixing with chopped sweet onion and fresh dill and tossing with vinegar, honey, and salt. 

Everything else went into frittatas. These are similar to a quiche but without the fancy cheese and cream. The potatoes form the crust this time and the savory pies are a great container for greens, squash, and tomatoes. We make them in the oven since we have more pie plates and oven space than skillets and burners. Here's how:


One or two potatoes
An assortment of veggies (for one frittata we would have used approximately 1/2 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 bunch of chard, 2 summer squashes, and one tomato
8-10 eggs depending on size of pan
1/2 cup grated cheese (opt.)

Lightly oil a pie plate with olive oil (I would use 9" or larger). Arrange enough thinly sliced potatoes to cover bottom. Place in oven and bake at 450 for about 20 minutes (depending on how thin the potato slices are. While potatoes are baking, sauté vegetables in a skillet until tender and grate cheese if you are using it. When potatoes are done, cover them with vegetables, lightly salted or seasoned, and then add enough scrambled eggs to come within a half inch of the top of the pan. Cover with grated cheese if you would like. Bake the whole thing for 30-40 minutes (till center is done) back in the 450 degree oven. 

May frittata

Hello, Chard!

Chard bowl
Freshly cooked-chard (and tiny pine needle)

We're beginning to be called "The Green House" now since the new paint job, but sometimes I think "Greens House" would be more apt. We have been swimming in collard greens since late fall and they seem to be at their peak! As much as I love them in the winter, I am getting a little tired of the work they bring - the stem removal, the chopping and storing and seasoning and cooking and cooking and cooking. Now that the weather has warmed up and the kitchen no longer a virtual refrigerator, the whole process has to take place as soon as the bucketfuls arrive (from generous farmers, from neighbors and friends). The kitchen has begun to feel like an emergency operating room with armfuls of collards being carried in regularly, laid out on the table, and prepared to go under the knife. Forgive my whining about the abundance of it all; they are still delicious and ridiculously healthy, make my kitchen smell like my grandma's and elicit all kinds of praise at the cafe; it's just collard-fatigue.

This weekend, hidden among the gift collards from the farmers market were three bunches of chard. Normally I would just chop these up and throw them in with the collards (cooking for the masses), but they seemed like just the right amount to prepare for the coffee-house (15 people), as opposed to the cafe (80), and something about their light green leaves and soft white stems just said "spring" to me. So I made up a batch. And, oh, they were good. They only needed a touch of seasoning compared to the collards (which I do all kinds of things to in an effort to hide from my southern friends the absence of neckbone or ham hocks). And they only took ten minutes to cook, stems and all! They were so tender, they practically melted in my mouth. 

I am sure that by the time autumn rolls around again, I will be jumping up and down at the sight of collards and looking forward to warming up holiday tables and cold-weather cafes with their healthy goodness. But chard... it's a spring-time green. It's about time for chard.

Simply Chard

2 tablespoons olive oil
a clove or two of garlic
1 bunch of freshly washed chard
a dash of salt
a sprinkle of dried hot pepper flakes (opt.)

Cut off only the very bottom of the chard stem, wash the rest thoroughly, roll and slice (as with collards). Sauté minced garlic in olive oil for just a minute -till barely starting to brown. Add freshly washed greens, still dripping with water. Turn heat down to medium low, cover, and steam. After about 5 minutes, check to make sure they still have a little water and add a few tablespoons if necessary, sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes, stir around in the pan, then cover and steam for a few minutes more. One bunch of chard should serve about 4 people.

Good Morning Orange Salad

DSC_0905 [1600x1200]
We are really enjoying the orange bounty this winter. Thank goodness for the Hendersons at the Saturday market who are keeping up stocked up. Last week we came home with a box of parson browns and red navels to share with folks at the cafe and at the labor pools - and to enjoy ourselves.

Fruit salad or "ambrosia," as the Martin family and other southerners call it, is a holiday staple. My dad always made it early on Christmas morning and added all kinds of things, including canned fruit cocktail (fruit cocktail-less recipe here). We pare it down for everyday breakfasts by adding what we have on hand. Most mornings that's oranges and pecans. And it is enough. Beautiful, delicious, sweet, with the crunch I like (and Grace does not). 

The pink fruit you see in the photo is not a grapefruit (Martins don't use grapefruit in the ambrosia), but a red navel. It's the end of the season for them, but get one if you can. So sweet and delicious. I'm looking forward to brightening up a few more mornings with this stuff. 

 DSC_0902 [1600x1200]

A Little Bit of This, A Whole Lot of That - How to Make Soup From What You Got

Yesterday morning, I woke up early to face the crates, buckets, and baskets of food on the kitchen table and figure out how to turn them into soup. While we buy what we can from the farmers market, our "cafe soups" are dependent also on the copious produce they gift us with at the end of the markets. Good stuff, top quality, and always an interesting mix, some of it gets stored for later in the week, some gets processed (freezing or canning) when we have a whole lot. 

Yesterday morning what we had the most of was roots - carrots, rutabaga, turnip, green onions; some tubers - sweet potatoes; and another bunch o' greens. 

I imagined a slightly sweet soup with rosemary (which is growing in our garden). So I chopped up enough to fill our four pots and cooked it up. The trick is the order. One huge difference between homemade soups and canned soups is the freshness of the vegetables. While cooked enough to chew, they should still retain their individual flavor (the canning process tends to overcook everything). So add the vegetables to the soup pot in order of their required cooking time.  

But first the flavoring: Sauté onions and garlic if you have them and sprinkle with seasoning (rosemary this time). Then add the hardest stuff - for us, diced rutabaga and sliced carrots - cover with water and boil for about five minutes. They need just a tiny headstart over the turnip and sweet potato which come next. I boiled this until it was almost tender (about 7 minutes). Then I added a shredded cabbage to each of our very large pots and boiled for another few (I could have used the collards or mustards  if I added a little extra time, but I am saving these for later in the week).  The water has now become a nice vegetable broth; taste it, and salt to your preference. Then I added canned tomatoes and pre-cooked kidney beans and rice, heated it up, and voila! The kidney beans added protein and some more hardiness. The rice was unnecessary, especially since we were serving the soup with bread, but I just fancied the tomato-rice-rosemary combo.  Giving the soup one last, hard look, I realized it could use some dark green, so I raided our little spinach patch out front, chopped some leaves up, and added it to the pot. At this point, guests were about to arrive, so I didn't even turn the burner back on, just allowed the already-tender spinach to soften itself in the hot broth. 

It was good, and relatively quick for twelve gallons of soup. It would take less than an hour to prepare a family-size pot if you have cooked beans and rice on hand. You could leave those out, especially if you're serving the soup as part of a larger meal. I can see this soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches - much tastier than the traditional Campbell's tomato. 

I like the challenge of using what we've got and making something good out of it. It takes a little practice, but what a great skill our grandparents had! Making do and making it delicious is the root of what we think of now as "regional" cooking. You don't get more regional than Mid-February Embrace-Your-Roots Soup.