A friend asked me recently about Brussels sprouts. She had bought some at a local farmers’ market and roasted them with a bit of olive oil and salt. She and her family enjoyed them so much that she went to the local grocery and bought some more. “They just didn’t taste the same,” she said. “Is that really just because the first ones were fresh?”
Well, yes. Fresh produce tastes different (better) compared to produce picked miles away, packed in a box, and trucked to your neighborhood grocery. The difference in taste is significant enough that even Bernard, who derides our largest farmers’ market as the Weekly I’m-So-Cool People’s Gathering, will suffer the trip when he wants to make salsa or potato salad or slaw. I bypass the Gathering in favor of the smaller hippie market that’s closer to our house. There I’m as likely to find Ziploc bags of basil that a neighbor decided on a whim to grow in his yard (Dude, let’s grow some herbs…) alongside the more established CSAs, and that suits me fine. I’ll also find my usual and customary Saturday breakfast, a fresh pain au chocolat from Boulangerie Olivier (no Web site, but here’s a link to her Facebook page). With pastry as with produce, fresh is just better.
Last week, in the spirit of make-and-store cold foods, my friend Barbara suggested that I try the gazpacho recipe from my mother’s 1964 edition of the Woman’s Exchange Cook Book. Barbara is an excellent cook, and her recommendations are always equally excellent. Though I hadn’t looked through it in years, I knew just where to find that little red book and its hidden gazpacho secret. There’s one ingredient (Snap-E-Tom) that will require a bit of extra searching on the grocery shelves, but I promise to give it a go and report next week.
Digging out that weathered, quaint, spiral-bound volume reminded me how strongly good food has long connected good friends. The book is a compilation of recipes from local home cooks, similar to a Junior League cookbook. The recipes were, and still are, featured fare in the tea room at the Woman’s Exchange of Memphis, a non-profit founded in 1885 and in continuous operation since 1933.
When my mother would make one of the recipes from the book, she would say, “we’re having Muriel’s Sausage Piperade tonight,” as most of the women who provided the book’s contents were actually my mother’s friends. Without the personal introduction, I’m sure the food wouldn’t have tasted as good. I doubt that kind of introduction will have the same effect this week when I tell my family we’re having my version of Mrs. A. Arthur Halle’s Creole Shrimp Salad, but I’ll enjoy the memory nonetheless.
This week I’m continuing my streamlined summer approach to food. In addition to Mrs. Halle’s shrimp salad, the plan for this week include cold cucumber soup, pasta salad, and something I call the summer grazing platter. With all of the blackberries coming in this week, it’s possible that we’ll have blackberry cobbler and ice cream to follow that veggie platter. It’s also possible that we won’t.
The only hot dish on this week’s list is Southern Corn Pudding, a request from my daughter, who came home yesterday reporting that the vegetables she tended, picked, prepared and ate while at camp for two weeks were D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. That camp was worth every penny, even if I did have to pet a snake during my tour of the nature center. We purchased the cookbook, and my organized child has already placed Post-It notes on the recipes she’d like to enjoy again at home. Soon. Very soon. At least that’s what her notes say. Southern Corn Pudding had the number 1 on its note, so it comes first.
Finally, a special thanks to our neighbors who brought us leftovers from a Mediterranean-style dinner party they held last weekend. Ratatouille and lentils and hummus, oh my! The lentils, in particular, were so good that even my son ate them. If I can pry the recipe from the cook, I’ll share it with you one week soon.
Good foodies make good neighbors. Cheers to a happy week.
A NOTE ABOUT FRESH CORN: Worth mentioning for any readers who have large dogs, like we do, and who compost vegetable scraps: make sure your discarded corn cobs are inaccessible to the dogs. After helping one of our chocolate Labs recover from eating three large fresh yellow squash, we’ve been tending to her brother who swallowed a piece of corn cob and required surgery to have it removed. I do not recommend this experience either for you or your dog. Ever.