Friday, May 4, 2012

Local and Regional Food Finds

Local Food Report
Local food advocates are no doubt as happy as I am about the uptick in availability of local products as the growing season progresses. Strawberries are abundant, spring greens and onions are reaching perfection, and the area farmers markets are in full swing. This week’s visit to Three Rivers Market turned up kale, arugula, chard, bak choy, lettuce, and onions, along with the strawberries. Farms in Spring City, Loudon and Jefferson Counties are the sources.
A regional producer, Shuckman’s Fish Co. & Smokery in Louisville, KY, is featured in the meat and seafood case at Three Rivers. Besides producing fish flavored with Kentucky bourbon and slow-smoked, Shuckman’s offers what they call “spoonfish” caviar. This product is the eggs of the Mississippi paddlefish Polyodon spathula. Tennesseans know this same species as “spoonbill catfish” or simply “spoonbill.” This rather ugly river fish is a holdover from an ancient line that has survived in the Mississippi River watershed, and is esteemed for caviar rivaling the best that Russia’s Volga sturgeons produce. If you are planning something fancy, like a June wedding, this regional product should certainly receive your consideration.
Farmers Markets Opening Across the Region
Farmers markets across the region are operated by various entities. The Farmer’s Association for Retail Marketing (FARM) operates markets in Knoxville and Oak Ridge. Learn more about them here.
The FARM market opens in Knoxville on Tuesdays and Fridays, at the Laurel Church of Christ on Kingston Pike, across from the entrance to Cherokee Boulevard. Hours are 3:00-6:00 PM. In Oak Ridge, FARM markets are 3:00-6:00 Wednesdays and 8:00-noon on Saturdays.
The Market Square District Farmers Market operates on Wednesdays 11:00-2:00 and Saturdays 9:00-2:00. Maryville also has Saturday and Wednesday markets.
Last year, the Knoxville News-Sentinel published a list of area farmers markets.
If you are traveling anywhere in East Tennessee, you can find a farmers market, depending upon when you travel. Oak Ridge and Norris are the only ones open on Mondays, and none are open on Sundays. Saturday is clearly the most popular market day in most communities. A visit to the Saturday market on Market Square in Knoxville is a trip back to a time when this was the thriving center of commerce for the city.
I have made many pleasant food and gardening discoveries at each of the farmers markets I have visited. Extra-early Garnet Beauty peaches made the best jam I have ever tasted last season. I will be looking for them again. Wild blackberries, which may arrive prior to July 4 this year, are always worth bringing home. I admire anyone who endures the briars, bugs, hot sun and the occasional snake to pick wild blackberries. Furthermore, the flavor of wild berries is unmatched in the domesticated varieties. Arrive at any of the larger markets in late July and you may find more than two dozen varieties of tomatoes alone.  Growers explore new varieties, hoping to find one that makes their booth a stand-out. This gentle competition among the vegetable growers is a bonanza for shoppers looking for something different to cook with.
Vegetable, herb, fruit and flower plants also appear in abundance at the markets. Not only can you find new and interesting flowers, you can also locate old stand-by varieties of useful plants that people have grown in this region for generations. Novice gardeners take note: the old stand-bys achieved their status by not placing unreasonable demands upon the always-busy farm families of past generations. They will be equally forgiving in your suburban back yard.
Our pet project this year has been “Strawberry Fields,” a container garden inspired by the Beatles song. How we came to design it requires a little explanation. We bought one of those 10 by 10  canopies for the deck only to find the fabric was not particularly durable. After running through two roofs in as many seasons, we have this year turned the metal frame into a support for plants. Hanging baskets at each corner hold a pair of strawberry plants, and large pots on the floor under each basket have three plants each. We have additional pots of strawberries here and there among our collection of dwarf evergreens in containers that we display on the deck. Strawberry Fields has been giving us a nice bowl of berries every day, and they are free of dirt and slug damage because they are elevated above ground level.

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