Strike Up the Band! by Dotti Hydue

Welcome to the sizzling hot Levy County Kitchen. Whew, I hope you all are staying cool while out and about. Memorial Day might signal the unofficial start of summer, but for me, July 4 heralds it loud and clear. Parades, barbecues, picnics, concerts, family gatherings, and fireworks are just some of the activities marking Independence Day around the Nature Coast. Be sure and celebrate sensibly by keeping cool and staying hydrated. If you are tired of your usual iced tea, check out the teas at your local grocery. Choose from lemon ginger, chai, black cherry, country peach, raspberry or wild berry zinger just to name a few flavors. You can also use these teas when making Arnold Palmer, a beverage that combines iced tea and lemonade.

 

DeBerry Marketing ServicesWild Berry Lemonade

1 cup sugar

4 bags berry-flavored tea

1/4 cup crystallized ginger (optional)

1 quart (4 cups) boiling water

6 lemons, juiced

About 3 cups ice cold water

Put the sugar, tea bags and ginger in a 1-quart jar. Be sure and use a jar that won’t break when adding the boiling water. Pour the boiling water to the top of the jar, cover tightly and let steep 15 minutes. Gently and carefully shake the sealed jar every 5 minutes.

Strain the liquid. Squeeze the tea bags before discarding them along with the ginger. Pour the tea into a 2-quart (half gallon) pitcher and add the fresh lemon juice. Fill with cold water. Serve over ice in a tall glass.

 

I’ve been harvesting beautiful, large, dark purple eggplants from my two plants, one every three or four days. I’ve already made Eggplant Parmesan (twice), a quiche, and lasagna using eggplant slices instead of noodles. No matter what you make with eggplant, it is a two-step vegetable. First you have to prepare the eggplant, and then assemble and cook the dish. I grilled a whole eggplant on the barbecue for my quiche. The grilling imparted a subtle smoky flavor that elevated the quiche to company status.

Large-fruiting varieties of eggplant are thought to have originated in subtropical India thousands of years ago. Small, egg-shaped types developed independently in ancient China.  Known in the Western world for about 1,500 years, English-speaking people called them eggplant because of their egg shape. Spaniards introduced eggplants to the Americas where they were grown as an ornamental until about 120 years ago. Besides purple, eggplants can be white, yellow, brown, deep pink, and even striped purple and white. They can be round, oblong, pear-shaped, egg-shaped, and elongated.

The following recipe yields patties that are crusty on the outside and tender and creamy on the inside. I didn’t have all the ingredients called for in the recipe, so instead of the fresh tomato, I used a couple tablespoons of homemade tomato sauce and substituted a little finely chopped sweet onion for the scallion.

 

Eggplant Croquettes

Croquette is a fancy word for fritters. Shape the batter with a couple of soupspoons, taking care to not make them too big.

Whether you are pan-frying or deep-frying, remember to not cook too many pieces at once. Overcrowding will cause your food to be soggy instead of crispy.

Whether you are pan-frying or deep-frying, remember to not cook too many pieces at once. Overcrowding will cause your food to be soggy instead of crispy.

1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 to 1 pound), peeled and cubed

1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 scallion, white and green tops, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Oil for frying

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Eggplant Croquettes make a fine side dish or filling for sandwiches.

Eggplant Croquettes make a fine side dish or filling for sandwiches.

Cook eggplant in boiling water until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well, pressing out all liquid with the back of a wooden spoon. Transfer eggplant to container of a blender or food processor. Add the tomato and process until smooth. Place in a medium bowl and add remaining ingredients, except the oil. Mix thoroughly.

Heat 1 to 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Form the eggplant mixture into croquettes, using about 1 heaping tablespoon at a time. Drop into hot oil and cook until well browned on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while frying the remaining croquettes. Serve plain or with a dollop of tomato sauce.

 

Pulitzer Prize winner Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery, published in 1942, is a collection of authentic central Florida Cracker recipes along with comments and observations that make for a great read. When extolling on Haden mangos, she exclaimed, “The texture is like cream melting on the tongue. The flavor is as though nightingales were singing to the palate. What the gods gorged on, on Olympus, is called nectar and ambrosia, but mangos are plainly meant. When ripe, the flesh yields slightly to the impatient finger and the jade-green skin turns the rose and yellow of a June sunset. I make fancy things with mangos, but when left to myself, I just shut the kitchen door, lean over the sink, peel the mango, cut off inch-thick slices and then eat.”

I had not heard of a Haden mango, so I did a little research. In 1902, Captain John J. Haden planted mango seedlings he had obtained from a Reverend Gale on his Coconut Grove farm south of Miami. As the trees grew and matured, one tree in particular produced a delicious fruit. Named the Haden mango, it was an accidental cross between the Mulgoba mangos from Gale and a “turpentine” mango, a variety with poor taste and texture, but excellent rootstock. The Haden cultivar is still a popular backyard variety, but disease and fungus halted commercial production years ago. Most of the mango varieties subsequently developed in Florida are either direct or indirect descendants of the Haden.

It is a shame they are no longer available commercially. The common mangos you find in most markets today are a far cry from ambrosia fit for the gods. A close second to the Hayden is the honey mango. Small and kidney-shaped, they turn a deep yellow when ripe. Snatch some up when you see them for sale and, like Ms. Rawlings, shut yourself in the kitchen and enjoy their sweet, silky flesh.

 

The red pods are easy to spot and signal the peas are ready to harvest.

The red pods are easy to spot and signal the peas are ready to harvest.

My garden is all but retired for the summer months. I finally pulled the last of the Mississippi Pink-Eye Pea plants. This Southern field pea is similar to black-eye peas but with a rosy “eye.” The semi-trailing plants produced abundant twin, 7- to 9-inch long, easy-to-shell pods that held 12 to 15 peas each. They are tasty enough, but don’t have the depth of smoky flavor like black-eye peas do. I will be enjoying them all year long though, for I shelled over eight pounds from just a 32-square-foot plot. I was thrilled to find no damage from root-knot nematodes when I pulled the pink-eyes, unlike the lima beans. I grew plots of Fordhook and Henderson bush varieties. They both produced poorly and succumbed to nematode damage early in the season.

Now is the time I like to look through seed catalogs to determine what crops to grow next year. The section on Southern peas offers many choices. Let’s see, Crowder’s, zipper cream, white acre, lady, whippoorwill—and the list goes on.

 

The long pods of Mississippi Pink-eye Peas are easy to shell and hold a bounty of tasty field peas.

The long pods of Mississippi Pink-eye Peas are easy to shell and hold a bounty of tasty field peas.

I don’t think I need to remind you, but in case you have been in hibernation, it is hurricane season. Now is the time to make a plan to stay in touch with family members who might not be at home when an evacuation order is issued. Be sure and have critical documents and some cash at hand. Gather emergency supplies including flashlights, first aid kit, batteries, food, water, and a supply of necessary medications. Include food, medications, vaccination records, and a few toys for your pets, too. Go to floridadisaster.org and click on “Get a Plan” in upper right corner. You can create a custom plan for your family and your business. Don’t forget to include elderly relatives and neighbors in your plan if evacuation is necessary.

 

Stay cool and until next time, the kitchen is closed.

 

There are plenty of activities for July 4th and the entire month of July. Check your local chambers of commerce and newspapers for details. Your public libraries are hosting fun, educational events for children all summer long. Topics include time detectives (archaeology), juggling, gardening, and visits from superheroes in law enforcement and safety. Check your local library for details and get your kids away from their electronic gadgets and involved with other children in a positive learning environment.

 

July 2, Thursday at 4 p.m. The Dixie County Public Library in Cross City is hosting A Taste of Cross City Contest. Everyone is invited to come to the library for a taste of Cross City and to collect a few new recipes. Library patrons are invited to submit a dish for consideration, attend a workshop, or be a judge. First Place wins a Southern Living Cookbook and $20 Amazon book of their choice. Second and third place winners each receive a  $20 Amazon book of their choice. Every participant will receive a cool library bag. To submit a dish, send an email to apc@3riverslibrary.com or call 386-294-3858. Space is limited.

 

July 3, Friday, 7 to 10 p.m. The Rock Bluff Band will perform at the lodge in Otter Springs Park and Campground. The cost is $2; children under 15 years old are allowed in for free. The Rock Bluff Band plays Gospel, country, and rock n’ roll favorites. This event is a fundraiser for ForVets Inc. as part of an effort to generate money for construction of Camp Valor Project facilities to serve severely wounded veterans.

 

 

July 4, Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Cedar Key Old Florida Clamfest will be held in the city park. Sponsored by the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association, and local business interests, the Clamfest features games, prizes, contests, food booths, and a water slide. Stay for the fireworks show that is slated to start at dusk.

 

July 14, Tuesday 4 p.m. The Gilchrist County Public Library in Trenton is hosting A Taste of Trenton Contest. Everyone is invited to come to the library for a taste of Cross City and to collect a few new recipes. Library patrons are invited to submit a dish for consideration, attend a workshop, or be a judge. First Place wins a Southern Living Cookbook and $20 Amazon book of their choice. Second and third place winners each receive a  $20 Amazon book of their choice. Every participant will receive a cool library bag. To submit a dish, send an email to apc@3riverslibrary.com or call 386-294-3858. Space is limited.

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