In North Carolina, we pay plenty of attention to our backyard gardens and farmers markets, to thirst quenchers both hard and soft, and, of course, to setting a table that’s more feast than meal. Here are some ideas for using summer produce in food and drink recipes.
What’s a BLFGT? Glad you asked. It takes a classic Southern treat—fried green tomatoes—and combines it with a BLT. I grow my own tomatoes, so I pick green ones right off the vine, but you can find plenty at farmers markets if you ask. Once I pick the tomato, I slice it 1/4 inches thick; dredge it in flour, a beaten egg, and cornmeal; then fry it in a cast-iron skillet. After I have a mess of tomatoes fried, we make BLTs with both fresh tomatoes and the fried green ones. And if you don’t want the whole sandwich, that’s fine—a fried green tomato on its own is a treat!
You’ll also hear some people call them ‘mater sammiches. A ‘mater sammich can be a simple affair—white bread, a little smear of mayonnaise, vine-ripe tomatoes, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper—or you can get elaborate. My wife and I like to get elaborate.
First, we start with a ciabatta roll that we cut in half, oil, and grill, then we layer on the fresh tomatoes: red ones and yellow ones and those strange sweet Cherokee Purple tomatoes (and sometimes even a fried green tomato). Then we hit them with a little salt and pepper, top it with arugula from the farmers market, and chow down. It’s a perfect bite of summer.
Sure, we grow some tomatoes, but the best produce you’ll find will be at the local farmers market. Every city, town, village, and hamlet has a farmers market or roadside stand where you can buy tomatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, onions, zucchini, squash, watermelons, and whatever else is growing. Go. Walk the aisles. Ask the farmers a question or two and pick up whatever makes your stomach growl. While you’re at it, ask them how they recommend preparing your purchase; I guarantee you’ll find some simple and some surprising answers.
Throughout the first part of summer, a number of farms and fields are open for you-pick strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, watermelons, and more. Grab a bucket (and some sunscreen) and head into the field to pick (and eat) as much as you can. You’ll find strawberries first, then blueberries (my favorite), then blackberries (my wife’s favorite). Picking them is almost as fun as eating them.
What to Do with All that Fruit
So you’ve picked a bucket of the berry of your choosing. What do you do with it? You can eat them fresh or with a little cream, you can go the cobbler or pie route, or you can make a refreshing beverage.
For dessert, try the easiest “cobbler” you’ll ever make. Combine a cup each of milk, sugar, and flour; pour it over a baking dish of berries; and bake at 350 degrees until the batter sets. Let it cool. Eat. Make it again tomorrow.
But the best use of all is for drinks. For starters, try berry lemonade. Put a cup of sugar, six cups of water, and the zest of one lemon in a saucepan and heat through until the sugar’s dissolved. Pour the mixture into a blender with a pint of fresh berries and the juice of six large lemons. Puree, cool, pour, enjoy.
Or make an adult beverage: a berry mojito. To make one, puree ½ cup of berries, then muddle five mint leaves with ½ tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of lime juice. Pour the berries, muddled mint and lime, and 1 1/2 ounces of white rum into a shaker and give it a good shake. Pour over ice, top with some club soda, and relax with an ideal summer cocktail.