Savor the Season A Guide to Farmers Market Finds for Summer
The cicadas are chirping, and the air is wrapping around you in a cozy humidity sweater. It’s summer in the South: the prime time to visit your local farmer’s market and stock up on produce from our fertile region.
Cantaloupes (also known as rockmelons) prosper in Georgia’s humid climate and permeable soil. These sweet, juicy melons are incredibly versatile and commonly eaten à la carte or mixed into salads, smoothies, salsas, yogurts, or, a personal favorite, sliced fresh and sprinkled with Bourbon Smoked Sugar. With a peak harvest season in July and August, their high water content makes cantaloupes a refreshing snack to enjoy during the hot summer months.
If there’s one crop that can handle the heat of a Southern summer, it’s okra. A member of the Mallow family (cotton, anyone?), North Carolina and Florida are two of the area’s leading producers of okra. Whether fried, boiled, eaten raw, or stewed in gumbo and served over buttery Two Brooks Farm Rice, okra is a cultural and regional staple. It’s large, leafy flowers can be seen growing in gardens all over the South from May until August.
Tucked away in the Tennessee hills north of Knoxville, Grainger County (population roughly 23,000) has garnered critical acclaim in recent decades as a world-class producer of tomatoes. But what makes this unassuming rurality a tomato mecca? Ask any Grainger County farmer and they’ll tell you: it’s all about the flavor. With over 70 growers, 650 hothouses, and 500 acres of tomato fields, Grainger’s acidic, limestone-based soil engenders a taste that electrifies the tongue: sweet and tart, soft and meaty, with crisp and earthy skin. Ripest toward the end of summer, most Grainger County tomatoes are “fresh market” fare and meant to be eaten as close to home as possible. Which means these tasty treats can be easily found in farmer’s markets all over the Upper South. Be sure to try Hostess Provisions Seasoning mixed with mayo for a mouth-watering tomato sandwich this summer!
Many people are surprised to learn that South Carolina, not Georgia, is the leading peach producing state in the country. With nearly fifty varieties of peaches growing within the Palmetto State, consumers have copious options to choose from. In the mid-to-late summer, most peaches you’ll find in South Carolina markets will be Freestone peaches, which are well-known and highly desirable for their juicy interiors. Whether enjoying the fruit raw, sliced in a caprese salad, or baked in a cobbler, don’t miss out on what will guarantee to be a ripe summer delicacy.
Do yourself a favor before fall arrives and find a fresh batch of heart-shaped poblano peppers. While these mild peppers are most commonly harvested in Texas, poblanos can be found in farmer’s markets throughout the Deep South all summer long. Sobremesa Authentic Mole Poblano, for instance, is handmade in Charleston and makes an excellent pairing with chicken, pork, vegetables, and eggs. A staple ingredient in many salsas, it’s important to choose your poblanos based on their color. Poblano skin changes from green and bitter when unripe (which is when most poblanos are sold) to sweet and red when ripe. So, simply reverse the common rule: green is stop, and red is good to go.