Fresh is Best 

Farmers market produce inspires the home cook

"Do I dare to eat a peach?"

-- T.S. Eliot

In Colorado, where trees are barren and the earth is brown eight months out of the year, and where supermarket produce bins are generally stuffed with over-refrigerated, genetically mutated produce from half a world away, the lure of the farmers market is irresistible.

Last Monday, on the final day of July, the farmers market in Acacia Park was the place to be, downtown. Beneath a flapping plastic awning, two young farm girls from down Pueblo way sat cross-legged on a flatbed truck, giggling and handing out dollar bills in change as hungry patrons chose ears of sweet corn, five for a dollar. Old men in overalls and John Deere caps filled baskets with green beans, sweet onions and other promises of a home-cooked meal.

From the northeast corner, a gentle breeze swept the scent of freshly roasted green chiles to the center of the park, luring shoppers with the promise of spice and sweet heat.

Since moving to Colorado and adapting to Western ways, I've learned how to gut and peel roasted green chiles, freeze a good amount for a winter's stew with pork, and flavor my cornbread with the rest. But for the most part, I prowl the farmers market every week in search of food I can cook the way my mother taught me -- fresh vegetables and fruit, seasoned and prepared the Southern way.

At last week's market, I found purple hull peas at the booth from Swink, located somewhere between Rocky Ford and La Junta; Colorado grown peaches for $2 a basket from Palisade; and enough corn to feed the hungry until 2008.

Then I went home, pulled out some of my favorite cookbooks and started cooking.

Kentuckian Ronni Lundy's Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden (North Point Press, 1999) contains the world's best recipe for blackberry cobbler, so I looked there for a peach cobbler recipe and found this one with Emmylou Harris' mom's technique for putting it all together. The result is more than worthy of the magnificent Colorado peach which the grower from Palisade tells me is enjoying its best season in memory this year.

Peach cobbler

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 pound (1 1/3 sticks) unsalted butter

ice water

6 cups peaches, sliced (peeled or not; I prefer peeled)

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cups water

4 tablespoons salted butter

Preheat the oven to 400. Liberally butter the inside of a 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Mix the flour and salt, then use a pastry cutter or your fingers to work in the butter until well blended and crumbly. Add ice water, a tablespoon or more at a time, until the dough holds together. Divide it into 2 portions, pat them into balls, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the fruit.

In a heavy saucepan, bring the peaches, sugars, water and remaining butter to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Roll one ball of pastry to pie-crust thickness, and cut it into inch-wide strips. Pour half the fruit mixture into the baking pan, then cover it with the strips.

Roll out the second ball of pastry and cut it the same way. Pour the rest of the fruit mixture into the pan, then lay the strips over it. Bake 45 minutes, until the top crust is golden, and peach filling is bubbling through. Serve warm.

Lundy's book also features an intriguing recipe for Peach and Dried-Cherry Chutney, seasoned with lime, ginger, cloves, red chile and garlic that would make an excellent side dressing for a bowl of purple hull peas.

Better known as crowder peas and sometimes referred to as field peas, purple hull peas look like black-eyed peas except with a pinkish-purple center and the hull is purple. Crack the top off the pod, split it open and pop out the flesh colored peas for cooking. The flavor is buttery and milder than the black-eyed pea, and is delicious prepared this way, adapted from the excellent southern cooking guide, Mama Dip's Kitchen by Mildred Council (University of North Carolina Press, 1999):

Purple hull peas

1 pound fresh purple hull or black-eyed peas

4 ounces salt pork or smoked bacon

2 quarts water

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Boil the pork in the water. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 45 minutes. Add the peas, onion, salt and crushed pepper. Cook for 30 - 45 minutes, until the peas are tender, adding water if needed.

Beneath the tent at the southeast corner of Acacia Park, I found Torpedo Farms' meat cooler and their fine smoked applewood bacon, a bargain at $2.25 per one-pound package. Simmered with the peas, the thick chunks of bacon provided a fine, smoky flavor.

Fried corn, prepared in the manner of Athens, Georgia food wizard Dexter Weaver was the centerpiece of my farmers market meal. Automatic Y'all: Weaver D's Guide to the Soul (Hill Street Press, 1999) offers this classic, easy recipe:

Fried corn

6 ears corn

1 tablespoon bacon drippings (Torpedo Farms smoked applewood bacon works well)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 stick unsalted butter or margarine (optional)

1 1/4 cups water

Cut corn off cobs, being sure to scrape milk off cobs thoroughly. Pour bacon drippings into frying pan. Mix corn, sugar, flour, salt, pepper and water in large bowl. Pour mixture into frying pan. Cook on low to medium heat for 45 minutes or until done, stirring often to prevent sticking. Optional: Melt butter or margarine over corn before serving.

The Acacia Park farmers market is open from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Monday from now through the end of September. p


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