I was completely inspired by reading this post on Little House in the Suburbs this afternoon. The easiest way to “Eat Local” is produce. Local produce is easily available in Gainesville thanks to our almost-daily farmer’s markets, Ward’s Supermarket, Citizen’s Co-Op, and even sometimes Publix, which is a chain but is headquartered in Florida and has a close relationship with Florida agriculture. The second most popular local foods are probably a tie between eggs and honey. But there is so much more out there!
Since we’re in the middle of our Eat Local Challenge month, how about trying some local foods that you may have never tried before?
1. Smoked Mullet
Anyone who was raised in North central Florida has probably had smoked mullet many times, most often as Mullet Dip, a cream-cheese based dip with plenty of smoked fish. Mullet is caught all around us, on both coasts, but much of it comes from the Cedar Key area. The Smokin’ Mullet makes excellent smoked mullet and sells at farmer’s markets all over the city. I love smoked mullet in dip, but it’s also really excellent in quiche and shredded in a salad. Mullet is a common fish that’s easily caught in sustainable ways, too!
Did you know that there are hundreds of acres of rice grown in Florida? Most of the rice in Florida is grown around Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee and is a rotating crop with sugarcane. This area is well beyond the 200-mile limit that many people place on “local food” but since most of our rice comes from Asia or South America, I consider 350 miles to be local rice. Florida rice can be hard to find in stores. If you can’t find rice grown in Florida, try rice grown in Texas, Louisiana, or South Carolina. Each of these areas have special breeds of rice that taste completely different from the “regular long-grain” rice that most of us eat. You can even grow your own rice!
We are lucky enough to have several fine cheese makers in the area, so local cheese is readily available. Cypress Point Creamery makes several varieties of aged cheeses like tomme and havarti. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a big fan of Glades Ridge Dairy. Their soft fresh goat’s milk cheese is a refrigerator staple. I use it in dips, on pizza, quiche, and grits.
There is lots of corn grown in Florida, but dry corn is usually sold to wholesale dealers and shipped off to faraway mills. Right now there is only one farm selling locally grown open-pollinated corn that is also ground on the farm and sold directly to the public that I know about. Greenway Farms is selling bags of cornmeal in various grinds at the downtown farmer’s market every other Wednesday and I believe you can also buy his corn at Citizen’s Co-op. His cornmeal is a little too coarse for me to like in cornbread, but it makes excellent polenta cooked in the crockpot.
That’s a recipe I haven’t posted yet, I’ll have to make some this weekend!
5. Field Peas
Have you ever tried field peas? They are the common “beans” grown in our area, better adapted for our hot humid weather than beans. There are many kinds of field peas grown locally including white acre, crowder, zipper, and black-eyed peas. Any field pea can be substituted for any other in recipes, but most recipes are based on canned peas like black-eyed peas. Fresh peas that we buy at the farmer’s market are raw and must be cooked before adding to a recipe. I like cooking them in salted water for an hour before adding them to a recipe that calls for canned beans or peas. They also make excellent Indian dal dishes, chili, even hummus!
Go out to one of our great farmer’s markets this weekend and try something new!