When my dear friend Stacey told us she was going to have her wedding in the Honky Tonk capital Nashville, Tennessee my husband and I happily set to organizing a tour of the southern states, a region in the U.S. that I had never visited before and was curious to discover.
Thanks to a friend who owns a bakery in Nashville, I had been made privy to the awesomeness of their extensive farmers market city and was excited to exploring its aisles of local veggies and artisanal offerings. I was curious to see what would be in season during a southern summer and maybe experiment with some ingredients that were uncommon in my native California and unheard of in my adopted home of France.
While planning or Tennessee trip, we decided to add a visit to New Orleans to our itinerary, making this an all-around gourmand gambol given this region's rich culinary history and traditions.
In Tennessee we began our adventure in regional specialities as all good adventures should begin, which is to say with a good meal. This particular meal was a lunch at Marché Artisan Foods where I enjoyed a plate of buttery (and locally milled) Falls Mill grits topped with fresh, seasonal corn, peppers, and shrimp.
Before leaving the restaurant, I picked up a small sack of grits along with our second bag of locally roasted Drew's Brews coffee which had been steadily helping us head off the unfortunate affects of jet lag.
I was happy to have grabbed the grits a few days later, when we planned an outdoor grill and gathering with the out-of-town guests and the just married husband and wife. On the menu was grits and....we weren't sure what else. This conundrum presented the perfect opportunity to head to the Nashville Farmers Market and see what was in season.
Located just south of the city center, the Nashville Farmers Market is an extensive indoor and outdoor space that provides local farms and independent producers with a space to sell their locally grown and artisanal goods.
A tour of the market gave insight to what was in season in the region, with tomato varieties, corn, summer squash, fresh beans, and greens standing out as stars of the summer months. Hot peppers such as jalepeno and regional favorites like okra were also on hand.
I stopped to admire a wall of pickled delicacies at the Robertson Produce stand, suppressing my urge to stock up on jars of dill pickles, salsas, and pickled beets. Deciding that future me would not appreciate present me's decision to load up on heavy carry on's before an international flight, I joined my co-chefs in assembling ingredients for our farm fresh dinner that night.
I'm still am not sure what to do with okra (when we asked the vendor at the market for preparation advice she simply replied "boil it"- which made me miss for a moment my favorite Paris market vendors and their emphatic explanations and recipes that I invariably would have had in response) and my unconventional idea of making a salad out of the hull beans led another vendor to look at my husband with sympathetic eyes, wishing she could add some lard and ham into my market bag so he could taste the real thing, I think me and my travel mates did pretty well at our first southern market.
Our menu included roasted summer squash, bell peppers, and okra over grits, a kale, tomato, & purple hull bean salad, followed by grilled peaches for desert (the lovely corn we picked up didn't make it to the final menu- FYI, you can't grill corn on an open fire. But what adventure in cooking is complete without a minor fail?).
I wouldn't have another farmers market visit until we made it to New Orleans, where I was able to check out the Saturday incarnation of the Crescent City Farmers Market. As you enter into the garage and that lends itself to this weekly market, you are greeted by a chalkboard that lists what is in season and at the market.
Early August promised basil, "creole" tomatoes (a regional specialty at the origin of an interesting local tradition), peaches, watermelon, and other homemade goodies.
I enjoyed a freshly pressed beet and watermelon juice and enjoyed watching the locals shop for parsley and basil plants, locally fished shrimp by the pound, and chat over peaches and the produce that makes up quintessential southern summer meals.
Market visits never fail to enhance a visit to a new place, both culturally and in the kitchen. Nashville's 7 days-a-week, year-round farmers market proves that there is a real and consistent demand for locally grown farm-fresh produce. New Orleans' Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday markets also meet this demand and were one of the few spots I found fresh produce available while staying in the city.
After two weeks of exploring the south, eating in restaurants and experiencing local specialties such as catfish, fried pickles and... fried everything, really (imagine my Frenchman's face when he was served fried oysters) I was ready to come back to Paris and fill my kitchen with fresh fruits and vegetables for homemade meals.
I did, however, regret not bringing back at least one jar of pickled deliciousness. That nagging regret coupled with the onset of early nostalgia for the summer that sets in upon returning from summer vacation inspired me to seal up some of the season's flavors before autumn arrives. These Dilly Beans, adapted from Sandor Katz's recipe, seemed a perfect marriage of the French favorite, green beans, with a dill pickle twist.
Dill Pickled Green Beans
makes 1 jar, increase proportionally for each additional jar
Two handfuls of green beans (enough to fill a jar- about 1/2 lb, or 1 kilo)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and left whole
1 tsp sea salt
small bunch fresh dill
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup of water
1 sealable canning jar & 1 large pot to boil canning jar in
1) Thoroughly wash your canning jar- the jar should be a standard mason jar or any jar with a lid that will seal hermetically when boiled.
2) Add garlic, salt, and dill to jars. Fill with green beans, arranging them vertically in the jar. Fill the jar with as many green beans as you can fit.
3) Boil the water and vinegar together in a small pot. Once this mixture comes to a boil, pour it over the green beans. Don't fill completely- be sure to leave about a half an inch from the top of the jar.
4) Close the jar and then submerge completely in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Store for 4-6 weeks and enjoy as a snack or atop a Bloody Mary!