It’s all because I wanted grits. I didn’t grow up eating grits and, in fact, my experience with truck-stop grits had led me to believe they just weren’t very good. But during a visit to the Low Country of coastal Carolina I discovered careful, small production, stone-ground grits that are delicious, versatile, intriguing. I looked but I couldn’t find anybody in my usual haunts of Missouri or southern Illinois producing grits like the ones I had on the islands south of Charleston Bay.
So I went a little further afield than my arbitrary 150 mile radius of St. Louis. Tuesday morning I drove to Kentucky (which IS a contiguous state to Missouri!) to shake hands and visit with Mac and Phillip Weisenberger, the 5th and 6th generations to operate a grist mill hard on the banks of South Elkhorn Creek since August Weisenberger, late of Baden, Germany, started milling grains right there in Scott County, Kentucky in 1865.
Bottom line: you can mill wheat on an industrial scale with huge, fast metal burr grinders and it doesn’t do the wheat flour all that much harm. But the heat generated by metal-on-metal milling just burns the soul right out of corn and kills the flavor. The old style, slow style, stone against stone hand milling of maize that was invented in pre-Columbian Mexico loses nothing when scaled up to the stately tempo of an 8 foot cold granite water-driven mill stone – but you ruin the grits if you try to grind much bigger and faster than that.
So I brought back a Prius-load of Stone Ground Yellow Corn Grits as well as Plain Bolted Yellow Cornmeal and I recommend them both highly to you.
Tempeh is made as a process of natural culturing and controlled fermentation binds whole, cooked soybeans into a solid, compact, white cake with dense protein comparable to meat or dairy products but no saturated fat or cholesterol. Common to Javanese cuisine, Tempeh offers more protein, fiber and vitamins than tofu but is just as flexible with a complex, subtle nutty, smoky, mushroom-like flavor of its own and the ability to absorb and reflect the flavors around it. It has a firm, tender-chewy, nougat-like texture that dices large or small, slices thick or thin without crumbling and grates like semi-soft cheese. It is made by hand in small batches in a certified kitchen in Columbia, Missouri entirely from organic, non-GMO soybeans grown in Boone County, MO. You can steam, fry, grill, poach or bake this versatile stuff and menu your creation as organic, vegan or vegetarian and, of course, very local.
While farmers seem congenitally predisposed to bitch about the weather under almost any circumstances, it has been a strange season. Lots of spring rain upset many a grower’s planting schedule and floods even took out some early crops. Then came drought and extreme heat that strangled Tomato blossoms and cooked Potatoes in the ground. But now! The rains have come, temperatures have mellowed, the days are weather-perfect and there is thrilling October baseball to be savored. The fall harvest, which should run right into December, is looking glorious! Beets and Turnips, Greens and hard Squash, Grapes and Sunchokes abound. Soon are coming late Lettuce, fall Broccoli and Cauliflower. The 2011 harvest season will consummate with a cornucopia!
Honeydew in history. Corn is kaput. There is a reason why they call this Peach variety “Encore” – it is the last variety to ripen around here. You can feel it in the morning – the season is changing – but the harvest is far from over. I just started with Apples and Sweet Potatoes; Winter Squashes aren’t far behind. There will be a fall crop of Lettuce, Radishes, Turnips, Beets, Spinach, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage. Almost like spring again, but more romantic. Fresh Horseradish and Pumpkins! Time to re-do the menu, reconsider your seasonings and change the way you think about food.
Homegrown Cantaloupe – Not too big – 6 inches or so in diameter, not really too much to look at on the outside either. But in the eating, this “Goddess” variety from Roxana, IL is superb – rich orange color, heavy for their size with solid yet delicate flesh and super cantaloupness of flavor that lingers on the palate not from sheer, sticky sugars (although there is plenty of that) but from the clean, pure fruit flavor itself.
Here we are at the sweet spot of the growing season. Oh, the harvest will last another six months but to my way of thinking it’s the confluence of Homegrown Tomatoes and just-picked Sweet Corn that represents the agricultural (and hence the culinary) pinnacle of the calendar. The month of July is resplendent with daily Lucky-To-Be-Alive moments when the two can be enjoyed during a single meal. So take the glory of the season to your customers, many of whom may not even be accustomed to indulging in the high art of seasonal eating. What a gift you can give them.