question for cooks in rural/small towns

solidago1(6 / Oregon)February 18, 2013

I currently live in a metropolitan area, but I have lived in a small, Midwestern town in the past. One of the frustrations I encountered, as a cook with an adventurous palate, was the unavailability of certain recipe ingredients.

I'm not sure this is the proper forum to post this, but I'm wondering what you plant in your garden simply because it is hard to find locally, and you enjoy cooking with it?

What are some of the recipe ingredients that you encounter in recipes that leave you dead in the water, because you can't find it at the local market? I'm talking about vegetables, herbs or fruits...

Maybe you like persian cucumbers, but would never find them offered at the stores around you, for example. Or maybe you like cooking Caribbean food, but can't find scotch bonnet peppers anywhere.

Is this a common frustration, and does it play a role in what you plant in your garden?

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chervil2(z5 MA)

My must have list includes blue potatoes, yellow raspberries, fresh cilantro, basil, Chiogga beets, Sungold and Juliet tomatoes, Provider green beans, ground cherries, oakleaf lettuce, fresh dill, chocolate mint, home grown asparagus, lovage, and fennel.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:01PM
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I do not follow recipes, and experiment a lot. I also would not bother with particular peppers, I freeze a pound of generic chilies from the garden in late september, and use them (as substitute for other peppers) through the year.

The recipe should fit the garden availability, not the other way around. Many of our classics (cucumber in rice vinegar, sorrel soup, purslane and tomato salad, bread and tomato salad, rabbit and squash, liver and lettuce salad, for example) are tried once, adopted (more often, not adopted) and perfected over time. It is also good to have a good herb garden. Besides the leafy herbs, I get garlic, chili, coriander, and fennel seeds in large amounts. The only spice I can not grow and I can not do without is turmeric.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:07PM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

For me, it's not necessarily a question of availibility but of cost. For example: for the price of a couple of peppers I can grow enough peppers from seed to have fresh ones all summer + plenty in the freezer for use in sauces and dishes like Swiss Steak, etc all winter long. Multiply that by squashes, tomatoes, beans, corn... Not to mention, I KNOW what environment they were grown in. Can't put a price on that! Maybe I'm not that adventurous, but in January, sitting down to a bowl of veggie soup made with things I grew myself is not only yummy in the tummy, but somehow satisfying to the soul too.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:24PM
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solidago1(6 / Oregon)

glib: While I tend to agree with your sentiments, wouldn't garden availability also be a function of what you plant in your own garden? Just because fava beans, for example, aren't widely grown in a particular area doesn't mean they can't be grown. Same with, say, poblano chilis. It depends upon what you like. I like salsa verde, for example, but when I lived in Ohio I could never find tomatillos in the store, so I grew my own. That's more what I had in mind.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:49PM
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For me it's usually peppers(rocotos, lemon drop, etc) and black tomatoes(never see them in the grocery stores).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 2:15PM
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Fresh summer savory, filet beans, ingredients for Frankfurter Grune Sosse (sorrel, mache, borage, etc.), fresh epazote for beans, and purple sprouting broccoli for early spring salads - just for beginners. I love to cook and learned a lot of different dishes and ingredients while living in Europe for 8 years, and being originally from Texas, of course I cook a lot of Tex-Mex. My herb garden is huge and I use just about all of it in one recipe or another.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 2:40PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

IME most "cooks in rural/small towns", and I am one as is the wife, aren't into the type of cooking you describe.

Our palate adventures, and those of all the neighbors and friends, church socials, 4H get-togethers, fund raising chili suppers and hog roasts, are restricted to those things we DO have ready access to - fruits, meat, potatoes, the standard vegetables, dried beans, and the readily available herbs and seasonings.

Not to say there aren't regional differences that favor chicken or turkey over beef, hot peppers over sweet, sweet vs. vinegar Bar-b-Q, mesclun over leaf lettuce, etc.

But for the most part rural farmers/gardeners are raised to make the most out of what we have and to preserve everything else for the winter, not to develop a gourmet palate. If we were to show up at a local pot-luck with some of the dishes others claim they can't live without it would be met with snickers and giggles and we'd be taking it all back home with us at the end of the evening. :)


    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 2:58PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I am cook in a rural area, but I'm a Yankee. Plenty of us here, so we do tend to have different palates besides the standard fare here of mac and cheese as a side dish, BBQ, greens,pole beans, and fried seafoods.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:40PM
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I can remember growing sugar snap peas in the 80s and feeling smug because I didn't think they were available in supermarkets.

Some of my recipe experimentation has developed from an abundance of a certain item or the chance to try a variety of peppers and tomatoes from plants available by a local grower. Another example would be our favorite winter squash, Confection from Johnny's, just isn't available at the supermarket or farmers markets.

I first bought yu choy at an Asian market and liked it as another green with a flavor different from spinach and chard. My husband doesn't care from mustards and cabbages so I started a search for seeds of a similiar plant. Also growing baby bok choy.

I think the German green sauce mentioned by another poster is a great example of being able to make something from our gardens that is not available at the market.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 4:32PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Okra. Which is surprising, but I never see it in the market or farmer's market. Never see cowpeas either. Also if you want any other color sweet potato besides orange. Non frozen shelling peas. But mostly the garden gives me quality that I can't get elsewhere. I am often surprised by the variety I do find at my local grocery stores, though I must admit we are about 45 minutes from the DC/Va/Md sprawl, so I think that while rural, folks around here are a mite more adventurous than they might be otherwise.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 6:32PM
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I am with Dave. Let me just tell you our adventures in the last two to six years:

- since 2006 we have learned to eat every bit of the steer we share with four other families - every bit that the butcher can legally give us (regrettably, no lung nor brains).

- because of the overabundance of bones, it's soup night every night in the winter (we make 5 gallons at a time and freeze it). We had never done squash soup or parsnip soup before, now it's every night (we also do leek carrot and rutabaga).

- and in spring and fall, it is potato soup with sorrel mainly, but also with arugula and garlic shoots.

- In the last 3 years our consumption of roots has exploded. You name it, we eat it in abundance. Yes, I was a traditional tomato and greens gardener before.

- then there is the mushrooms. I have 50 logs in production since 2009. The cardoons. The huge amounts of celery also never grown before. Pounds quantities of coriander and fennel seeds to nicely complete our herb garden.

- wild plants. I have settled on nettles, purslane, dandelions, and ramps, the latter not to be eaten on a school night because co-workers will find it objectionable

And it's not like we are super healthy. Every bit of the pig we get that is baconizable, is baconized. We cook with lard now, and chickens are roasted on a deep oven dish so the potatoes soak all the drippings. My wife makes bread and one gallon of yogurt at a time, started with store bought yogurt. All this available in quantity and quality in a small town.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 6:54PM
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ruthieg__tx(z8 TX)

I think the situation you describe has gone away since the internet arrived and made shopping for those ingredients so available. We grow a lot of our food but I also don't try to grow it just because it is not readily available....

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 7:24PM
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IAmSupernova(SE Texas 9A)

Most fresh herbs. The only place to get them here is from Kroger's and from them is expensive. I can find cilantro/parsley and sometimes thyme easily... But anything else, even basil, is difficult to find.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 7:33PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I am an adventurous cook in a small town in Ohio. In the last few years I have seen the produce departments in local grocery stores expand tremendously, so I can find many of the vegetables I used to just dream about. Still, most of what I grow is rarely available locally. Heirloom tomatoes, lemon thyme, hardneck garlics, lemon grass, Thai Basil, epazote, poblano and landrace chiles, fingerling potatoes, any eggplant other than black beauty, okra, arugula, and tomatillos. And I have learned not to take my favorite ethnic dishes to potlucks. I still make great dishes my friends don't find too weird. They don't know what they're missing.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 10:47PM
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I agree with ruthie that your images from the past no longer apply. There is but one traffic light in my entire county, but I can find almost anything I need here. Strange ingredients are easy to find on the 'net.

That said, we garden cooks take pride in rolling with the seasons, preparing what needs to be cooked. I am just coming up on the season when the freezer is approaching empty, so I get to go to the store and choose whatever I want. Not so the rest of the year.

So I guess what I'm saying is that our challenge is not finding stuff, but using what we have. Right now the chickens are laying like crazy, so creative egg dishes are the special du jour.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 8:10AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I forgot to say earlier: glib? Liver and lettuce salad? Sounds like a child's nightmare, but I'm curious. What exactly goes into a liver and lettuce salad that it has become one of your classics?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:44AM
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It is called salade lyonnaise (google it). Best with rabbit liver, but good with all livers. Place diced bread in the oven to brown, with a little olive oil (optional). Chop the liver in small pieces and saute' with onion until crisp. Prepare a mustard vinaigrette (mustard and olive oil). Mix the lettuce, liver and onions, and croutons together with the vinaigrette and salt and serve.

Our meat club gets thirty chickens and one steer, so we get quite a bit of liver (no one wants it), plus the occasional pig. It is a lot of nutrition, and not liver-y at all. Our ancestors, in times of plenty, would eat the fat back, the liver, the marrow and brains, and a few other entrails, and leave the muscle meat to the vultures. It is good to rediscover things that make us thrive.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 4:46PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Cool. I usually find a use for all the little things that come on the baggie inside the chicken. And sometimes I will find such interesting bits as cow heart or fresh pigs feet at the local grocery store. I did cook the cow heart (pretty good) but skipped the feet. The salad sounds good to me.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 3:43PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

but skipped the feet.

Oh sunnibel you don't know what you missed! Boil pigs feet for 3-4 hours in just enough water to cover with chopped onions, peppers, celery, a few carrots. Strip off the meat (it's very lean/lowfat) and add back to the pot. Add salt/pepper, a dash of cider vinegar and some black eyed peas. Simmer until the peas are tender. Serve over rice, noodles or mashed potatoes. Classic southern winter fare. :)


    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 4:41PM
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I have a vegetarian past, but since I discovered grass fed meat I eat it with abandon. My favorite meat is pig shank, vacuum packed with spices and briefly boiled, then finished in the oven (less work than it sounds, since it is the butcher who packs it). But I will eat anything meat really. I have turned into someone who picks bones clean, and chews the fat.

Some time ago I read the biography of Enrico Fermi (did a lot of physics, I read somewhere he wrote 8 Nobel level papers - got only one, but died young), written by his disciple and also Nobel winner Segre'. They landed in the US in Ann Arbor in 1933, and spent two weeks touring Michigan in a rented car, staying in farm houses for bed, dinner and breakfast. They were both from Rome, Italy, but they concurred that these Michigan farm dinners were the best food they had ever eaten. Back in Ann Arbor, they went straight to the store and tried to replicate dishes, without success. The secret was, of course, that food came from the back of the farm and was alive moments before the meal. So, really, it is the garden (and the chicken coop and other meat, sure) that creates the cuisine, not the recipes.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 9:47PM
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glib, you said it all:
'it is the garden that creates the cuisine, not the recipes.'

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 4:45AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Yes, that is what I have learned, growing up with a garden then spending my early adulthood without one, then growing my own. Whenever I see comments like "beans are cheap enough at the store" I alway think "but they don't taste as good". So back to the OP, even for plain old green beans and corn I would rather have my own. Oh I thought of another couple of things I grow that I never see: cardoons and yard long beans. I can find the latter in an asian market about an hour or so away, but they always look pretty well used and not appetizing. I have never seen cardoons. Also, I agree with whoever said a variety of peppers.

Back to the meat aspect, we are starting our first flock of meat birds soon, so I suppose I will find out if straight from the coop is as good as straight from the garden. Though if the amish prefer to do the whole group at once then only the first one eaten will be fresh.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 11:12AM
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"I agree with ruthie that your images from the past no longer apply"

It does apply where I am to a point. I could buy fresh herbs online, but I am not going to pay for the shipping....... I could possibly buy them at the store, but they are old, expensive and lack a variety of choices. I could also drive 4 hours to stores that have them, but that isn't convenient when you're talking about produce. My area has certain demographics that dictate what is in the local stores. I live rural and grew up rural (elsewhere,) but I have lived in larger cities too. I love to try all sorts of foods. So, I do garden with that in mind.... I can't find certain items conveniently or easily, and plant those items because of it.

Thus, I grow all my herbs (and a large variety) myself. Other than herbs, I grow different, unique veggies each year for fun... different tomatoes, different beets, different carrots.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 11:13AM
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If you have a restaurant those birds will process a lot of leftovers, possibly all of them, but be careful with salty stuff such as cured meats.
If they get enough macronutrients from leftovers, all they would need is some daily greens. You could also design your coop and fence so that they can be moved elsewhere every three years or so. The vacated lot will be a great garden.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 11:28AM
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I've lived in quite a few places, to include the PI, and I have developed a taste for those things that aren't readily available here, too. Or at least there is no demand for them. I've learned to do some substitutions that seem acceptable. I also agree that there DOES seem to be quite a variance to local tastes as well as what they consider important to "put up." My Midwestern-raised DH would swoon with partially concealed disgust if I prepared a boiled salt fish dinner ;) Anyway, back to the original poster's question....
I love most all kind of berries and for some reason most at the grocery store aren't grown locally and the ones there are very expensive. I would also second the fact that I grow peppers to try and experiment with for various recipes. I grew Cheddar broccoli last year and while it isn't rare anymore, you sure wouldn't find any around here to buy. I wouldn't say I'm adventurous but I sure like to try a few novelty items each year. Lori

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 4:11PM
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Sorrel. Yellow turnips. Figs. Black chokeberry. Garden huckleberry. Root parsley.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 7:53PM
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I agree that one needs to be very careful about what one brings to a potluck or contributes to the church supper but I've found that even the non-adventurous will accept certain new recipes. They might not ask you for the recipe but you will get a few honest compliments. My husband would be willing to eat the same thing every day but I just seem to crave new tastes.

Here are some examples that people have liked:
- parsnip cookies
- garlic scape hummus
- zucchini and raisin pancakes (almost like carrot bread)

There's always the chance that a new flavor will hit the big time. First the recipe gets shared and then some regional manufacturer will put it into production. I'm thinking something like red pepper jelly. I think I first tasted it in the 80s but now it's in every "country" shop.

For years, I've been buying corn rather than growing it (the racoons won) at a local dairy farm. One of the young relatives grows it to earn money but the relatives have changed over the years. At first, there was a variety of corn, usually 2 different varieties each week, sometimes a third as a new one was ready for picking. Signs would be posted so you knew what kind. I loved that although I didn't always love all the varieties. About two years ago, they switched to a supersweet variety probably succession planted. At the beginning of the season, the corn is a little on the too young side and by the end of the season, well, it's almost not worth buying except it's going to be the last corn until next year.

I'm going to start trying other farmstands. I don't think I've had any silver queen corn in two years and I miss it.

The price of berries is a good example. I've been making blueberry muffins from berries we picked last summer and next year we better pick more. I used the last ones last weekend and it's only February. I don't buy fresh blueberries at the supermarket. The berries are available but the price is too high for my pocketbook.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:15AM
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Cooking and gardening are the best of companions. Learning to use any herbs and veggies is always fun. This is why I love this website as well as cooking TV, etc. I use to service a restaurant that used all of the trimming from the preparation of all their veggies. All the trimmings when into a large cooking pot for vegetable gravy and stock. Next year when I finish off my turkey all the onion skins plus any-other scraps will be roasted together with all the bones with what ever is left on them. Then all that will be boiled and saved as stock and frozen for later use. The french cooks use to keep a pot on the back of those old stoves and threw all the scarps meat, herbs and vegetables into the pot as that place on the stove was hot anyway so not to waste it many good gallons of stock came out of that pot. Just one more reason I keep seeing some recipes that call for throwing out the vegetables after making stock. They seem to forget what was to be thrown away was trimmings not vegetables.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:44PM
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We save all onion skins, all leek tops, all carrot tops and carrot pulp from juicing, celery leaves, potato skins, collard stems, and of course the steer gives us unlimited bones. We make stock five gallons at a time, freeze it in quarts, then have soup most nights (in winter, very little in summer).

I am curious about roasting the bones first. I think I will try it next, we are down to 4 or 5 quarts.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 4:51PM
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Fooled You jalapeno (zero heat), berries, apples by the 100s since we press our own juice, basil for pesto, garlic, onions, beans to can, sweetcorn to freeze and a everything else for the joy of it and to save a lot of money. Get a big freezer and/or learn to can.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 8:10PM
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I've lived in small, rural towns all my life. My mother's garden contained beans, peas, potatoes and corn. My father thought cauliflower was exotic. I grow 11 varieties of lettuce, lots of other greens for salad: 2 kinds of cress, minitina, red and green mizuna, 2 kinds of arugula, mache, radicchio. Also shell beans - never available in markets here. Lots of tomato varieties. This year I'm trying something called strawberry spinach. I can't get any of that in the grocery store. I'm lucky to live fairly near a wonderful farmer's market (Ithaca, NY) but I would rather grow my own.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:22PM
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