What is North Carolina’s most widely available summer pleasure that we often pass by without partaking?

It is the bounty of delicious fresh foods that are available throughout the state all summer long.

I have been spoiled by the year-round availability and wide selection of fruits and vegetables at our grocery stores. So I sometimes forget how much better foods are when they are fresh from the field, tree or vine.

Then somebody shares a fresh-picked ripe strawberry, peach or tomato.06-29-11-dg-martin.jpg

And I remember joyously the pleasures of in-season eating.

This year I have help. It comes from four new books from food experts who celebrate the value of farm-fresh eating. Each author takes a little bit different approach to getting the food from farm to table.

Award winning chef Andrea Reusing organizes her recipes and advice by seasons of the year. Sara Foster catalogues her fa-vorite recipes and stories by types of dishes, from hors d’oeuvres to sweets. Watauga County native Sheri Castle puts her collec-tion of recipes in separate chapters for about 40 vegetables and fruits. They are in A to Z order from apples to zucchini. Finally, travel writer Diane Daniel organizes by geographical location the farms, markets, restaurants and other places where we can find and buy in-season fresh vegetables and fruit.

We will take up the Reusing’s and Foster’s books in this column and follow up next week with a discussion of those by Castle and Daniel.

Andrea Reusing owns the acclaimed Chapel Hill restaurant Lantern, one of the former Gourmet Magazine’s Top Fifty restaurants. Her Cooking In The Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes takes its readers through every season, showing how to shop for and prepare the variety of local foods that are avail-able in North Carolina during different times of the year. Reusing’s restaurant is known for its complex Asian-inspired flavors. There is some of that influence in the recipes in her book.

But, for the most part, the foods and the directions are simple and designed to take advantage of what is fresh and available. I loved her great advice about my favorite food, the tomato: “The secret to eating great tomatoes all summer long lies not in which variety — but in watching them — making space for them to lie flat someplace cool near the kitchen, checking them daily, eating the ones that need eating and continuously making plans for the ones that are getting there. Even tomatoes that are picked ripe need a little time out at room temperature to reach their peak flavor. It is shocking how long it can take even a just slightly firm tomato to get there … and how fast a perfect one rots.”

Many folks in the Research Triangle area know Sara Foster for the wonderful food and fellowship at Foster’s Market in Durham and Chapel Hill. Fans throughout the country admire her as a communicator about southern foods, wonderful teacher, and author of lovely and understandable cooking books.

She grew up in Tennessee in the country surrounded by family and other rural and small-town characters and family. Her recipes reflect southern-cooking traditions familiar to North Carolinians.

Foster also worked for and with Martha Stewart. The elegant photography to illustrate the recipes, the photos and stories about old-time, home-cooking restaurants throughout the South, and the overall presentation of the book show that Foster knows how to produce a product Martha Stewart-style. As a result, when you have finished look-ing through her book, you will want to stand up and give an ovation for the production.

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