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Are Southern Vegetables Vanishing from our Dinner Table?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Tomatoes picked vine-ripe and ready to go.

Peas in field ready to be picked.

Recently my wife and I went to Geneva County, Alabama to look for fresh southern vegetables. We drove my truck and filled it with vine-ripe tomatoes, okra, freshly picked and shelled pink-eyed and black-eyed peas as well as white butterbeans. We also found sweet corn and fresh squash.

Fresh peas picked and ready to be shelled.

Since all the vegetables were picked, cut, shelled or shucked and washed, the process of blanching then shocking them in an ice bath and freezing or canning was more easily completed than usual.

The problem is that our grocery stores necessarily carry a large variety of vegetables. However, most of the vegetables are not as fresh as those we bought at the farms in Alabama because the vegetables in the grocery store are selected for purposes of shipping and harvested younger than ‘field-ripened’ varieties.  The grocer has to make a profit to stay in business, and if varieties of vegetables aren’t affordable and don’t ship well they aren’t likely to make their way into the grocery stores.  More importantly the okra, squash, corn and tomatoes that are available in the local grocery stores are varieties that are more affordable and necessarily ship well.  Unfortunately the peas, butter beans and vine-ripe tomatoes don’t ship as well nor are  they as readily available as the grocery store produce items are.

The availability of some southern vegetables is dependant upon the specific vegetables’ affordability as well as ability to be packed and shipped.  Many vegetables that were readily available in my youth are now dependant upon local farmers and our willingness to safely freeze or can those vegetables.  If the numbers of local farmers continue to decline then my children and grandchildren are unlikely to enjoy the southern bounty of vegetables with their unique taste in the years to come.  However, if we continue to support farmers such as Aplin farms in Malvern, Alabama (pictured here) as well as Brent Womble of Georgia Peas and Produce in Pineview, Georgia and others, southern fresh vegetables will rebound.  Indeed, Frank Stitt’s acclaimed Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama and Sean Brock and Travis Grimes’  award-winning restaurant Husk in Charleston, South Carolina feature fresh southern vegetables in their menu items.  In fact I am heartened by Sean Brock’s statement about his restaurant’s meat and vegetable ingredients, ” If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.”  Maybe there is hope that my grandchildren will be able to eat fresh southern vegetables the way their great-grandmother made them!

REFERENCES

  • Costenbader, C.,Preserving the Harvest., 2002,Storey Publishing.
  • Complete Guide to Home Canning from the USDA., 2009

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