A Summer Vegetable Supper from the Farmers Market

Produce from Peter's Pumpkins and Carmen's Corn stand at the Fulton Farmer's Market
Produce from Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn stand at the Fulton Farmer’s Market

Usually when it’s hot and humid in Minnesota in August, I wallow in nostalgia for my South Carolina upbringing–which leads me to cook some Southern something like fried chicken or peach pie, and post the recipe.

But this August (at least right now, knock wood) Minnesota is at its finest–sunny days in the seventies, with low dew points, and great sleeping weather in the fifties. Instead of my thoughts roaming to the past, they’re sticking right here. It would never feel this good in August in South Carolina!

So I’ll give you a recipe partaking of our own wonderful local produce, which is finally abundantly here after a long, slow, cold spring. It comes with a story that involves two vehicles.

My husband Jeff is on the board of our neighborhood Fulton Farmers Market. Twenty-six vendors bring their produce, flowers, maple syrup, honey, organic chickens, eggs, salmon, artisan cheese, baked goods, and food trucks to a church parking lot every Saturday morning. We walk over with our mutt Murf, turn him over to Will, one of the volunteer dog sitters/walkers from Urban Dog. He runs him around a nearby park until Murphy realizes he’s running farther away from his parents than he likes, and drags Will back. By that time we’ve bought all sorts of fresh vegetables, and get a big, happy reunion with a joyous dawg.

Jeff volunteered to write a piece on one of the vendors for our southwest Minneapolis newspaper, a great excuse for us to go visit Peter and Carmen Marshall’s farm down near Shakopee. We got lost three or four times getting there, but finally arrived in the middle of lush farm fields at the Marshalls’ two story white house. There was an apple orchard in the side yard, a little farm stand for selling vegetables roadside, a red utility building, and twenty acres behind the house bursting with raspberry bushes, corn, strawberries, tomato, and cabbage plants. I was driving our 2007 Volvo station wagon, aka “The Hearse,” black, with dark-tinted back windows. I’ve never gotten quite used to that car. It has some nice features, like heated seats, and it beeps when you almost back into something, but it has bells and whistles I’ve never needed or wanted. Just the other day I set the alarm off by reaching in the half-open window to unlock the door. Jeff, who had the keys, had gone to buy beer while I bought groceries, returning to the car ahead of him. It’s an unpleasant experience to set off your car alarm in a parking lot, or anywhere I suppose, especially an alarm like The Hearse’s, which could raise the dead.

As soon as we got to the farm and got out, The Hearse locked itself with the keys and Jeff’s cell phone inside. I had been driving and had taken the keys out of the ignition and put them in the cup holder between the seats. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t want to leave them in the ignition, as if someone way out in the middle of nowhere would drive off with the car! As if putting them in plain sight in the cup holder was any solution to that! Okay, I guess The Hearse didn’t “lock itself.” I must have done it somehow, pushed the lock on the key fob or the button on the door. I picked a doozy of a place to do it.

Hmmm. We would have to call a locksmith to come out from Shakopee.  But Carmen, who was supposed to meet us, had had an emergency in Minneapolis, and the house was locked. There were two people at the farm, Johnny, a customer who had come to get cucumbers to make pickles, and Juan, the farm worker who only spoke Spanish. Johnny tried heroically to help us but he couldn’t find a locksmith in town who would come. The only one he made actual radio contact with on his cell phone wouldn’t come if we didn’t have a cell phone–don’t ask me why–but ours was in the locked car. We were considering hitchhiking back to Minneapolis, a good hour or so away, or trying to get a ride into Shakopee to take a bus into town. Just about then, Juan got a call from Carmen on his cell phone. Jeff asked if there was a car at the farm we could borrow. Carmen had a neighbor bring over the keys to a 1997 red Ford F-150 pickup truck that was in the utility building.

When I first saw that truck, it looked as big as a parade float to me. Huge, high, and heavy. I couldn’t imagine how Jeff could drive it. While I know how to drive a stick shift, I was intimidated by the tall gear shift and sheer size of the thing. Jeff, however, once he figured how to get it into reverse to back it out of the building, was thrilled to get to drive it. He almost took out some branches of an oak tree in the yard, but then we were on our way, sitting high and happy. I realized I had never even ridden in a pickup truck. Could that be? It was not what I’d call a smooth ride, at least not the way Jeff drove it, but it carried us back to the city, where we could get another set of keys for The Hearse. The pickup was the envy of the guys in our neighborhood. And we had managed, in the “crisis,” to score 18 ears of just picked corn from Juan to cook on the grill at our neighborhood block party that night. Jeff drove the truck back the next morning, daydreaming about how he’d missed his calling, how he’d like to be a farmer with a pick-up truck . . .

Newly inspired by our visit to the farm, on Saturday we bought fresh vegetables from Carmen and the other vendors, and that evening I made the following pasta dish for supper. Continue reading “A Summer Vegetable Supper from the Farmers Market”

A Publication Reading, an ebook Giveaway, and a Recipe for Whip Cream Pound Cake

TATYQ_Alden_Front121412This is a big week for me!

I’m having the publication reading for The Answer to Your Question on the 20th at Subtext Bookstore in St. Paul, 7:00, downstairs from Nina’s Coffee Café, at the corner of Western and Selby.  I would be delighted to see you!

But I’m fretting about where you’ll park.  Aren’t the streets and sidewalks AWFUL!  Please don’t fall.  I’d feel like killing myself if you did.

I hope you can park in the lot on the west side of the Blair Arcade Buildings.  Come in the west door and pass through the 1970s west building into the 1870s east building, go all the way to the end, and take the stairs or little elevator down.  Or you can enter via the exterior stairs, under the Blair Arcade awning, across from W. A. Frost.

A huge thanks to Mary Ann Grossman for the wonderful piece she did on me and the book in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sunday.  Thank you, Mary Ann, for always being such a generous supporter of me and my writing!

I’m busy making Southern refreshments for the occasion: cheese biscuits with a pecan on top; sausage balls (three ingredients: Jimmy Dean sausage; Bisquick; cheddar cheese); spinach balls (they only sound healthy), my mother’s whip cream pound cake; little pecan pie tartlets (okay, I’m buying those from Byerly’s), and the piece de resistance, pimento cheese finger sandwiches on cheap white bread.  YUM.


I’m also curious to see how my first free KDP book giveaway with go this weekend, Feb. 23 and 24th.  Please pass the word that Continue reading “A Publication Reading, an ebook Giveaway, and a Recipe for Whip Cream Pound Cake”

Aunt Grace’s Easy Peach Pie


The Perfection of Peaches
The Perfection of Peaches

Around this time of the summer—early August, when I hear the crickets or whatever they are out there chirping away in the dark–I am struck with nostalgia for the South, or more particularly, my Southern childhood.  What we heard at home at night, lying in the Pawley’s Island hammock on the big screen porch at the cabin near Table Rock State Park, in Upper South Carolina, were katydids.  Deafening, probably in the 90 decibel range, not like these wimpy crickets around here.  And we had abundant lightning bugs, which I don’t see anymore.  Maybe we’re too far north, maybe it’s the city lights, or maybe lightning bugs haven’t fared well with mosquito spraying. 

I usually get the urge to fry a chicken around this time of summer.  I posted about frying a chicken a year ago (http://paulettealden.com/2011/08/).  But so far I haven’t fried a chicken this summer. It’s been so hot in Minnesota, hotter than usual; global warming.  Plus I keep thinking I’ll be wearing that fried chicken the next day, which is not a pleasing thought.

We used to make fresh peach ice cream every summer at the cabin.  The peaches were perfection, as only a South Carolina peach can be.  Mother would make a concoction of peaches, cream and sugar, and pour it into the metal canister of the ice cream maker.  Daddy would set the canister in the ice cream bucket and fill the sides around it with ice and rock salt.  Then the men—there were always a lot of friends and relatives at the cabin when we’d make peach ice cream–would take turns churning the hand crank, which went around more and more slowly, getting harder… and harder….. to turn, as the ice cream thickened into an incredibly sweet, creamy, delicately peachy treat.  I will not taste its like again!  

Nowadays people make ice cream in electric ice cream makers. I would never do that.  I have stooped as low as I can go by buying New Jersey peaches. 

Two of the people often at our cabin in the summer were Aunt Grace and Uncle Perry.  Perry was a doctor and my father’s brother.  They were a huge part of our lives growing up.  Continue reading “Aunt Grace’s Easy Peach Pie”

The Sweetness of Chess Pie


Chess Pie
Chess Pie

I have every intention of having this blog be about books and writing, but sometimes I stray.  Today is one of those days, because I want to give you my recipe for Chess Pie.

Chess Pie is an old Southern recipe.  My South Carolina father loved a chess pie, untouched as he was by any health food considerations.  He lived in an era before cholesterol, or at least before we knew the word, and he died at home at 87 of a heart attack.  A good way to go.   My main memory of chess pie was when my boyfriend my freshman year of college flew to Greenville to see me, and came down the steps of the plane carrying a chess pie for my father.  I thought that was a little too sweet, in more ways than one.  If the boyfriend could have married my parents, that would have been perfect.  That’s more or less what that chess pie told me.

The pie originated in England.  No one is quite sure where the name comes from.  Some think it’s because the pies were kept in a pie chest.  Another explanation goes that when a husband asked what kind of pie it was, the wife answered “jes’ pie.”

Right now as I type this I have a chess pie in the oven and it smells like heaven, if heaven is made of butter, eggs, vanilla and sugar.  I wish you could smell it.  I’m taking it to a dinner party tonight for six.  I about had apoplexy trying to decide what to make for dessert.  I have at this very moment in my book bag to return to the library the book Sugar Busters, which states that sugar is basically poison.  I am interested in health, food, and nutrition and I read various books related to the subject.  I try to cook fairly healthily.  I hold the fort on red meat, am bad about butter, do pretty well with whole grains, and can walk away from sugar most of the time.  When I was assigned dessert to bring tonight, it created the usual tiz about what to fix.  I often make something with apples, but at this point in the fall I’m tired of apple crisp, baked apples, apple pie, and apple Brown Betty.  I got out Mark Bittman’s Food Matters (because I believe it does) and looked through the dessert recipes. I wanted to take something without too much sugar, butter, and eggs, something somewhat healthy which wouldn’t make people feel bad about eating it, not to mention spiking their blood sugar.  But I didn’t want to make Coconut and Brown Rice Pudding, Spiked Pink Grapefruit Granita, or Frozen Chocolate Bananas.  I didn’t want to make a single Mark Bittman healthy dessert.

I wanted to make chess pie.

Continue reading “The Sweetness of Chess Pie”

End of Summer

"Southern Summer" by Diana Fields
“Southern Summer” by Diane Fields

I got the desire to fry a chicken.  It was mid-August in Minnesota and the crickets reminded me of katydids on summer nights when I was growing up in South Carolina.  All those summer evenings of my youth I’d lie in the dark in the Pawley’s Island hammock on the screen porch of our cabin at Table Rock, surrounded by that loud, strange, reassuring sound.  I felt a deep longing as intense as an itch that must be scratched.  What to do, what to do?  The only thing I could come up with was to fry a chicken.

I couldn’t remember ever actually frying a chicken.  To my amazement I didn’t believe I ever had.  I thought I knew how, sort of, but I wasn’t completely sure.  When I was growing up, it was my mother or Edith, our maid, who always fried the chickens.

When I left home for college and then graduate school and beyond, I took for granted that the world I had left behind would be dependably there for me always to return to, and for many years it was.  I’d go home to Greenville several times a year and get refueled on food and love.  But of course my parents’ lives weren’t exactly standing still.  They were growing older.

When my father died of a heart attack in 1990, at the age of eighty-seven, I began to grasp that things would not go on forever.  Now whenever I went home, my mother no longer had a big pot of vegetable soup and corn bread waiting for me on the stove.  I’d have to go to the grocery store first thing.  She became frail, forgetful, until the moment came when my sister and I realized that she could not live on her own.  We made plans to move her to Minnesota, where I would be able to look after her.   I knew that most people, in their old age, move out of Minnesota if they can.  Old folks don’t move to Minnesota if they can help it.  But, I reasoned, people mostly survive Minnesota winters, and in a way I was selfish.  I needed to have my mother while I still could.

I knew that Greenville still existed, physically, but my Greenville was gone.  I felt this loss most intensely in summer, when everything in the South intensifies.  The heat of course, the humidity, the green, but also produce.  I thought of how my father would arrive at our cabin with bushels of green beans and corn, tomatoes, cucumbers.  My mother was a wonderful Southern cook, versed in fat back.  My parents (as was Edith) were country people who had moved to town, but who hadn’t forgotten their roots.  My mother would cook the most delicious half-runner beans, simmering the piece of fat back for an hour or so before she put the snapped beans in.  I know people who make fun of fat back cooking, who describe Southern vegetables as cooked to mush, gray, they say, but they have never had my mother’s green beans or her creamed corn.  The apex of summer in each bite.  Usually we’d have a fried chicken, almost on the side, since fresh vegetables were the main thing, and of course, cream gravy.

How to fry a chicken?   I felt it was classically simple, but certain questions rose in my mind.  For example, did you salt the chicken ahead of time, and if so, for how long?  I got down my Charleston Receipts cookbook, the incredibly tattered, stained, and falling apart Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook  my father had given me when I was twenty-two, and an old issue of Southern Living I had saved.  The recipe in Southern Living, for Virginia Pan-Fried Chicken, seemed laughably complicated, involving a couple of soakings (rock salt in water, then buttermilk) and the absurdity of potato starch.  Besides, I didn’t want Virginia pan-fried chicken, I wanted fried chicken, the real thing, the platonic ideal.  I wanted it just like my mother and Edith made.

Continue reading “End of Summer”