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Friday, June 22, 2018

Eat Your Vegetables

Come summer, I long for the smell of my grandmother's  floral cotton dresses. Almost threadbare from wear, they smelled of powder, lavender, love, and hard work. Draped across her belly with miss-matched aprons adorned with large patchwork pockets,  those faded cotton dresses were the summer uniforms she donned to take care of the homestead and tend to the garden. Just steps from the back door and enclosed with barbed wire fencing covered in grape vines to keep the cattle at bay, the garden always needed tending. Apple trees edged the garden like watchtowers , providing shade from the sun and respite from the heat. It was my secret garden. Her secret garden. Lush. Private. Safe.

Although every summer day seemed like high season on the farm, midsummer upped the garden ante. Warm sun-kissed tomatoes hung heavy form their vines or fell to the ground begging to be gathered, sliced, salted, and eaten. Greens beans always needed snapping. Carrots and onions had to be pulled. All the while, endless meandering vines of summer squash and cucumbers twisted their way through everything. Gardening. Country work. Hard work. Armed with her curious aprons (the tools of her trade), my grandmother methodically worked the rows of the garden, filling her pockets with whatever was ripe for the picking. When she wasn't gathering, she was cooking. No the matter the hits and misses along the way, she plodded on and cooked with crazed abandon. Her fried green tomatoes and  marinated cucumbers  were the stuff of dreams. When the corn rolled in,  her fresh pan fried corn could make farm hands weep.  That said, there were times when she drowned boiled carrots in off brand margarine, obliterated summer squash before smothering them in black pepper, and hammered green beans until they became one with her bacon grease. Either too young to care or too naive to know better, I loved every single bite. Like a good farm boy, I ate my vegetables. I adored my vegetables. I still do. And while I don't much obliterate or boil them to death these days, I still enjoy a bit of heat and char.

Pan Roasted Chili Glazed  Carrots And Radishes.

Not my grandmother's heavy handed back pepper.
After blooming 1 tablespoon smoked paprika in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter over a medium flame, I added 3/4 cup Cracklin' Hen hot pepper sauce, 1/4 cup local honey, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. When the honey melted into the sweetened buttery hot sauce, I pulled it from the heat and set it aside.

The roots of the matter. 
What grows together goes together.
Even banged up with dirt and soil, French breakfast radishes are stunners. When bunched together, they explode from their feathery greens to steal the show. I'm a sucker for showstoppers. Tossed in salads or swiped through butter with a dab of salt, raw radishes bring peppery spice to the party.When cooked, they transform into sweet translucent jewels with surprisingly mild turnip-like undertones.
Game on.

I simply snipped the greens off a hearty large bunch of Stonehedge Farm French radishes, gave them a quick wash, and set them aside.

Bunched up as stubs or bundled up as slender beauties, locally gown tender sweet carrots have no comparison. Beauty plays second fiddle to taste. Without much fuss, I sliced the carrot tops from 1 pound Stonehedge pencil thin carrots. Leaving the fragile skins intact, I gently rinsed the unpeeled carrots, and set them aside.

My grandmother knew her way around a cast iron skillet. Most farm folks did and still do. Count me in. These days, they might seem old fashioned in the age of sous vide and high performance cookware, but they've endured for a reason. They're workhorses. For the lucky few, our hand-me- down cast iron  skillets are tangible tactile legacies seasoned with time and love.

After sliding a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame, I add 2 tablespoons bacon grease (from my stash) and 1 tablespoon butter. Just before the butter took on color, I tumbled the carrots and radishes (reserving a few radishes) into the pan and let them rip, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. When they started to caramelize just a bit, I turned the vegetables over, shook the skillet to settle them down into the oil, and let them go for another 5 minutes before adding 1/4 cup of the chili sauce.  After cranking the heat to medium high, I let the chili sauce reduce until the carrots and radishes were draped in a light spicy sweet glaze.

I pulled the skillet from the heat, splashed the vegetables with fresh lemon juice, and  hit them with kosher salt before finishing with Mercer County micro greens, Elmwood pea shoots,  and the reserved fresh radishes.

Painted with blistered spice, the earthy sweetness of the tender carrots and cooked radishes tempered the muted fire of the brick colored glaze. While the greens added pokes of freshness, the perky raw radishes provided bright peppery crunch.

I  have one of my grandmother's tattered aprons.
And I store bacon fat in the fridge.

And like a good urban farm boy,
I eat my vegetables.

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