Thursday, June 30, 2011

Glad it’s Summertime

I’m writing this ode to summertime while being serenaded by lovely summer music – an orchestral enchantment of a summer thunderstorm. We’ve been dry down here in Dixie and every little drop is a blessing. Fill our cups please!


Peas, purple hulls to be exact, sunflowers, peaches, butter and snap beans – all coming in with gusto from our farms and gardens. Mimi’s favorite thing is to shell peas, and after a myriad of places, we finally tracked down unshelled peas for her pleasure and leisure.

 “So many places sell them shelled…  I just want to sit and shell peas all day.” Mimi. 

The nerve of us buying shelled peas – that would be robbing our grandmother of a blessing! Shell away Mimi…shell away! My grandmother’s delight I count a richest gain, for all I have to do is eat the peas. For there again is a favorite pastime of our matriarch – cooking peas. Alas, I shall resign my attempts and glory in the pot liquor of Mimi’s peas.

“I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done so all my life… I eat my peas with honey, so that they stay on my knife!” another Mimi-ism.

Cream 40’s, Pink Eyes, Lady, Zipper, and Crowder… there is a pea for just about every week of summer. As is our custom, a piece of seasoning meat with a bit of bullion and onion is the way to cook peas. “Back meat” is a delicious cut of pork to use. It is basically a pork chop cut from another angle, so it is lean and flavorful. Country butchers such as M and T and Striplings gladly offer the cut. You’re family may cause a ruckus for the back meat pieces that have stewed in the pea liquor… good eatin’ my friends, good eatin’! I’m glad it’s summertime! 

I stopped for gas en route home the other day and saw a truckload of peaches – literally! The gentlemen purveying the peaches told me they weren’t the prettiest but they tasted good. He said they were “cookin’ peaches” and I knew just what I’d cook with them – cobbler! He told me that “by the time you cut out the spots, there wasn’t too much to look at, so just chop ‘em all up and make a cobbler or something.” “Yes Sir” I replied and obeyed his orders for our Sunday dinner. I’m glad it’s summertime!

Sunflowers and hydrangeas –  is there a more sublime summer tableaux? I know why Mr. van Gogh was enthralled with them as I have been since childhood. The geometry and outrageously jaunty nature of the flower is stunning. Yellow and blue are just the cat’s pajamas for a color combo. Mason jars aplenty await to boast their brimming bouquets of these summer staples around my house. They last so long and if you plant different varieties of the two flowers in your garden, you’ll have a summer solstice full of them. This duet will always bring a smile to my face. I’m glad it’s summertime!

Whether it’s a country road I found particularly pretty, a truckload of peaches, a vignette of that perfect glass of tea or just some summer’s best, the sweltering season does have its highlights. From this Farmer’s neck of the woods to yours, I’m glad it’s summertime ya’ll!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler

Bonjour mes amis! Unless your fluent in Cajun French, which I am not, the translation of this title and salutation is “let the good times roll and hello my friends!” I’m channeling some Cajun French phrases because I was thwarted unexpectedly into the realm of zydeco and lagniaippes the other night by way of Hawkinsville, Georgia, mind you. Story goes as follows…

I journeyed to M and T Meats as is my custom, and Mr. Phil was telling me about the boudin sausage he had made. Now, this country market is known for their sausages, meats, cheeses, and produce, but a severely regional dish, such as boudin sausage, served outside Arcadia was intriguing. Mr. Phil said it was made in the traditional Cajun style and that I had to try some. My cooler was packed with the spoils of my journey: sausage, pork chops, back meat (one of THE BEST cuts of meat for flavor and tenderness… think peas steeped in their own pot liquor with this tender, center cut pork), Pepper Jack cheese, and biscuits. And the new item, Cajun Phil’s Boudin Sausage, was accounted for as well. 

So after a long day, I found myself asking the proverbial question of “what to cook tonight” and then rummaging through the pantry, freezer, fridge, and basket of fresh veggies from Granddaddy’s “parishioners.” We’re Baptist, mind you, but Mimi and I say parishioners, ha! With such an arsenal at hand, I knew I could throw together a feast of local divinity in a matter of minutes. That boudin was just taunting and tantalizing me and I had cook it – taste and see what the folks at M and T were raving about and all of Cajun Country for that matter!

Okra, tomatoes, Vidalias and baby limas – all simmered in a bit chicken stock and awaited their fluffy bed of rice. A billowing pan of cornbread was rising in the oven and the boudin sausage was roasting on my favorite iron skillet. Immediately, the aromas of what constitutes boudin sausage – pork, peppers, rice, onion, and spices – wafted throughout my kitchen, melding with the cornbread baking and stewing vegetables on the stove. I was mainly cooking all this for me, allowing myself to be my own guinea pig when trying a new dish. Yet, once the enticement of these flavors hit the olfactory senses of my sister, her friend, and our friend “Red,” my table was full. Shortly thereafter, so were we!

Sweet and spicy, savory and tender, smooth and intense all at the same time – this boudin was phenomenal. There’s an old saying about politics and sausage making: you don’t want to know what goes into it. I assure you, this was not the case. Knowing that fresh meat, rice, vegetables, and spices were the ingredients of my main dish, I proudly served up this Cajun delicacy. There is something pleasant about knowing where your food comes from after all.

The tomatoes and okra and rice –  classic Southern cuisine from Acadia to Hawkinsville and beyond – combined with absolute perfection with the sausage and baby limas, which I didn’t over cook, rather leaving them a bit al dente for texture. While being transported to Louisiana, the Mississippi Gulf, and even East Texas with just one dish, I was reminded of the common bond food plays throughout the South.

This meal was local produce and products combined to bring sustenance and nourishment to our bodies and souls at the end of the day. Whether in Hawkinsville, Georgia or Ponchatoula, Louisiana, the feeling is mutual – a mighty river has shaped our land, our people are fed from said earth, and your culture is food based and food driven. All I could say afterwards was Je fini, je fini, je fini!
J'espère que vous avez une bonne journée mes amis. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pearson Farm – A Peach of a Place

One of the many benefits of growing up in Middle Georgia is knowing where your food comes from. Knowing who grew it, where they grew it, and how they grew it. I cannot think of a better “know your farmer”  situation than knowing the Pearson clan, especially since they grow this Farmer’s favorite jeweled delights of summer’s bounty – peaches! 

Now that peach season is in full tilt, I journeyed out to Zenith and Lee Pope, Georgia (suburbs of the metropolis Fort Valley, mind you) with some out of town friends. They wanted peaches and I knew just the spot. This farm is my go to spot for peaches. I send my clients “thank you” baskets from this farm full of peaches, pecans, or whatever is in season, for I know that a gift from their farm is always in good taste. I wanted my friends to see the old schoolhouse turned packing shed, taste the best peach ice cream, and experience the sights, smells, and tastes this place offers. If you’re anywhere in Middle Georgia this summer, do stop by!

We traversed and travailed up US Highway 341 from Kathleen to the farmland straddling Peach and Crawford counties where the soil is imbued with the elements and nutrients favorable for peaches. In fact, this belt of soil in western Middle Georgia is so conducive for peach production, that the area has donned our fair state with its marvelous nickname - “Peach State.”

Lawton Pearson and his first cousin Will McGehee are fifth generation peach farmers – fifth generation! That’s incredible! The history, legacy, and tradition in this family is quite admirable. Genetics play a major role in peach production, and I can safely say genes play an equally significant role with this peach farming family as well. 

When I was out at Pearson Farm last week, Will and I took a stroll through the test rows of new peach varieties.  This is where knowing your farmer has its perks: Will stopped, took out his pocket knife, and sliced open a peach just waiting for us. I could hear the peach juice gush as the knife broke through. I sampled this newer peach, ‘Fiesta Gem,’ and I still cannot stop thinking about how good that peach was. The sweetest, juiciest, literally “off the tree” most perfect peach! It was like eating the season in that wedge of peach. Partly that variety, partly right off the tree, but mostly experiencing first hand that this farming family knows their crop – knows what peach is best – when and where  – and sometimes that “when and where” is right off the tree in the middle of an orchard.

Just before the orchard tour, we had just had some of Mrs. Betty’s cobbler in the packing shed. It was divine! Yet, that particular peach was the sweetest, juiciest, most delicious peach I have ever tasted. I told Will he and Lawton needed to plant a million acres of that peach! It was absolutely phenomenal!  Interestingly enough, the drought is partly to blame for the sweetness.
“We are in a severely dry season this year and the sugars in the fruit are more concentrated rather than diluted, thus the peaches taste sweeter and are a bit smaller this year.” Will said. With Middle Georgia approaching week thirteen of no rain, we’re praying for it every day! At least the peaches are sweet!

Last summer, I had the opportunity to cook a Peach Dinner out at Pearson Farm – a time to celebrate the goodness of the land with friends and family. After visiting Mr. Al and Mrs. Mary and chatting with Will this summer, I’m confident this season is just where it needs to be – primed with peaches. From the Peach Fields of Middle Georgia to you, happy summer!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Bouquets, Three Fun Ways

Blue and yellow, shades of pink, all green – right out of the garden and into my house. This Farmer loves to snip blossoms, blooms, and branches and adorn my house with trappings from the garden. Just a quick traipse down the garden path can yield little nosegays and bouquets aplenty to bring the outside in… and bring them in all summer long!

Neighboring colors on the contrast chart, such as blue and yellow, always make a visual splash and impact whenever they are used. Rather than a diametric contrast, such as orange and blue, slide over a step and use yellow. I just think “happy” when I see such a jaunty combo, and rightly so! For the word “jaunty” has the French word for yellow as its root! Just knowing that the combo of blue and yellow makes green gives this little trilogy of hydrangea, salvia, and melampodium an added oomph and pizzazz. The sharpness of the true green leaves with its parent blue and yellow colors is delightful. While on the subject of green…

All green for a bouquet is stunning. Lime, chartreuse, grass and golden green all make up for a deliciously cool and fresh arrangement – and in a green Depression Glass vase to boot! Buds of hydrangea and their serrated true green leaves bounce off of limey sweet potato vine, acuba, and Southern shield and Kimberly Queen fern fronds that all together appear cool on a sweltering summer afternoon. A few green pears plucked before ripening also played on the theme and serving as a dutiful homage to this amazing color in its various shades. 

Green is so neutral – nature’s neutral – and fairs well in any tableaux. Shades, hints, hues, and tints of the color represent life and vitality and bring said movements into a bouquet. If your home is vibrant and full of color, green is apropos. If your home is neutral and serene, green is at home. If your home is traditional or mod, classic or contemporary, prairie, piedmont, or post and linear, green is your scheme! This Farmer truly loves tone-on-tone plantings and green just may be my favorite one.

With that in mind, I move on to the fun that pinks can bring to the table – literally! From salmon to coral to baby pink and fuchsia, pinks blend so well and complement one another gracefully. The last bits of foxglove, some hydrangea, begonia leaves and buds, pentas, roses, and ‘Coral Nymph’ salvia all merge and mingle together in a jelly jar yet could be completely at home in a julep cup, crystal vase, majolica pitcher, or blue and white cache pot. This absolute fun of flower scheme is happy and heartening, pleasing to the eye and surprisingly complementary to many interior schemes and table settings. Lime green looks so keen with pink, so a few sprigs of variegated liriope add drama and pizzazz.

I’m a boy that likes pink. I’ll admit it. Maybe it’s because Mama was Phi Mu; but honestly, the color is beautiful and so many lovely flowers can be found in the ranges of pink. As a designer, I rely on pinks to soften and frame a home, accent a bed, or add that pop against blue that is so classic. Cobalt, navy and indigo with fuchsia, hot pink, or salmon rose is fantastic. I’m now reminded that I’ve already written a post on pink, thus I digress…

Stroll through the garden and bring in the treasures you find. Just a jar of little buds is smile worthy. From this Farmer’s garden to yours, I hope you find fun with your summer bouquets.

Monday, June 6, 2011

One Hundred and Six Years

My family doubles birthdays, even triples them. Mema, Mimi, and Mama, three generations, share the same birthday. I have two aunts with the same birthday in April and my parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle share the same anniversary. Maggie, my middle sister, and our Granddaddy share the same birthday, and this year was a mile marker, for Granddaddy turned eighty! Their years on this earth combined make for one hundred and six years, and what lifetimes the two have had!

How does a family celebrate one hundred and six years of life? Well, a fish fry of course! Freshly caught grouper from the May River in Bluffton was iced down and brought to my uncle’s wooded tract in Perry, one of Kathleen’s suburbs, where we fried fish and hushpuppies, ate local delicacies such as smoked sausage from Stripling’s and M & T's, “Mrs. Pat’s” coleslaw, watermelon, “Georgia Caviar,” homemade ice cream and cake – pound, coconut, caramel and chocolate.

The new party pavilion, built in honor of my little cousin Sally Kathryn’s wedding, is now the venue de jour for any event we can conjure up. A delightfully warm but not hot day in May, May 14 to be exact, wrapped the pavilion and land in swath of balmy perfection for such a special day. Tables set with assortments of my aunt’s dinnerware, old family quilts and cloths, garden fresh centerpieces, and mix and match silver and chairs made the generations literally come together not only to eat, but to fellowship and reminisce.

Hydrangeas in shades of indigo, turquoise, and azure blended with butterfly bush, fern fronds, and a daylily or two in their Mason jar holdings accented just about anything that sat still. Literally cut from the garden and set on the table, this formula makes for summer bouquets all season long. Blue in so many shades, complements a myriad of colors, and when using a fun mix of cloths, quilts, and covers, it's a mainstay for the centerpiece and a great way to connect the entire tableaux.

Frying fish is an art, and thank goodness for my in-laws… brother, cousin, and boyfriend, respectively! These guys breaded, battered, and fried the grouper filets and hushpuppies to absolute perfection and what a chore it was! I knew my sisters and cousin were looking for good men to add to our fold, but secretly, we wanted good fish fryers…and we got ‘em! Thanks gals! It takes a village to feed a village, and once my grandparents’ brood, their posterity and now in-laws, a village we truly are! A true team effort from the kitchen to the deep fryer produced this meal, this celebration. 

Once the first round of feasting was over (we eat several times rather than once), we gathered in a circle and shared stories of Granddaddy and Maggie, laughing and “carrying on” as Mema used to say. With a hundred and six years to pull from, the stories, tales, and episodes from each generation were full of hilarity, memories, and gladness. I cannot think of anything better than a fish fry to usher in another century of life! As I’m typing this, a hankering for one of those pieces of fish is taking hold…  thankfully my birthday, father’s day, July 4th, and a summertime of fun is at hand and more is to come!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Q and A with Spoonful - Knockout Roses, Tomatoes, and Full Sun

Hello all! It's me again, Sarah Barry Spooner from Spoonful, a novice gardener and friend of the Farmer. One advantage I have as having James as a real life friend is that I can shoot him an e-mail with my gardening woes and questions. Below in green are the questions I sent him regarding knockout roses, tomatoes, and full sun. I found his answers helpful and totally worthy of a blog post. James agreed.

my email to James:


my knockout roses are splotchy on the leaves. are they diseased? what should i do?

also, i'm working on tomatoes. last time i grew these rodents got them. is there a good way to keep this from happening? should we get a scarecrow?

oh and when should i pick them {tomatoes} off the vine? when they are green?

what is considered full sun? is there an hourly limit? my yard is so shady and i'm really hoping my zinnias and wild flowers will make it. i planted in sunny places, but even the sunny places are somewhat shady at certain parts of the day.

i know you are super busy! answer these questions in your own time. i was thinking we could make a post about them. sort of a Q and A. I'll provide pictures if you like and link up on my blog.

i love collecting gardening knowledge little pieces at a time, year by year.

Mama Spoon


James' answers are in blue text

my knockout roses are splotchy on the leaves. are they diseased? what should i do?

KO roses are probably the most disease resistant roses out there. Occasional splotches and blotches are to be expected on any rose though. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about them. Clip off spent blossoms to encourage new growth, fertilize with rich organic matter, and if the spots become severe, try a mixture of Murphy’s oil soap and water one cup to one gallon. Spray on the leaves, underneath the foliage too. That little bit of oil soap makes it tough for critters to stay on the leaves. There are non-organic and other methods to try, but for KO roses, I’d wouldn’t be too stressed.

also, i'm working on tomatoes. last time i grew these rodents got them. is there a good way to keep this from happening? should we get a scarecrow?

There is probably a remedy for every rodent when it comes to growing tomatoes and the like. Scarecrows do help, until the crow start resting on his arms! Rodents are startled easily so if the scarecrow has something that moves with the wind or is reflective on him, then that might help scare the crow away. Other fun things…marigolds help keep aphids away, cayenne pepper is frowned upon by squirrels, and moth balls detour just about anything or anyone!

oh and when should i pick them{tomatoes} off the vine? when they are green?

LOVE this question!!! pick off the vine when YOU want to eat it. tomatoes and many other fruits will ripen off the vine, but on the vine lends the most flavor. YET, there is that magic moment when a tomato is absolutely perfect one second and rotten the next. I pick them when I need them or know I’ll need them. Say I’m having BLT’s for lunch or tomatoes with supper…I’ll pick them that morning for sure or even the day before. With the heat coming on strong, the fruits will ripen faster, so picking a few green ones to ripen off the vine on your kitchen window sill or screen porch is just fine. Pick when you need them or within the day of cooking with them. And remember, each stage of the tomato’s ripeness yields different flavor…the green ones are spicy and mix well with red ones in a stew or succotash.

what is considered full sun? is there an hourly limit? my yard is so shady and i'm really hoping my zinnias and wild flowers will make it. i planted in sunny places, but even the sunny places are somewhat shady at certain parts of the day.

Full sun…that’s a loaded question… sunlight is somewhat akin to color theory…your blue might be gray and my green might be blue. But typically, an area that receives 6 or more hours of sunlight a day is considered “full sun.” When those 6 hours hit the plant it makes a huge difference. Morning light or an eastern exposure is completely different than a western exposure. Six hours of morning light versus afternoon light can make or break a plant. So when considering full sun, consider the type of light the plant will receive. Anything that gets sunlight from noon on is full hot sun to me. Yet, a plant that needs full sun and gets it until, say 3 pm, will be just fine shaded the rest of the day. Plants like hydrangeas and azaleas, or ANY blooming plant for that matter, need sunlight to photosynthesize and flower, but that softer sun, such as eastern exposures, is ideal for shady plants who still need some sunny love.

This was too much fun!!! thanks dear!!! let’s do more!


Just for fun, some pictures of my efforts...past and present....

yellow knockout roses, given to us for our son's first birthday. What a neat gift, right?!

homegrown tomatoes, graciously donated to us in summer 2009 because mine were a big failure

 my first zinnia garden, summer 2008

Thanks for having me back, James!
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