During halftime of last weekend’s delicious LSU-Auburn game (sorry, Auburn friends!), my friend Sara and I headed into the kitchen to work on appetizers while our combined six kids and two husbands headed outside. It was beastly hot, so much so that organizers a few miles away at Tiger Stadium had made special arrangements for extra water — and paramedics. Even here in the comfort of our air-conditioned house, something cool and refreshing was in order. We set out the ingredients to make Gulf shrimp spring rolls.
I’ve been in Louisiana since the early nineties (whoa, is it possible that much time has passed!?), but I’m a Georgia native. My husband and three kids and I return frequently to the Peach State to visit my family, always taking advantage of the local culinary gems (mustard-based pit BBQ anyone?). This year for Thanksgiving, we headed to the Blue Ridge area and, while there, hit one of our favorite stops, Mercier Orchards.
The family-run business features thousands of acres of fruit orchards (mostly apple), along with a large store that sells fresh produce, pastries and all kinds of fun stuff in jars. I can really go nuts at this place, hauling back several half-peck bags of apples and extras like Mercier’s signature five pepper hot sauce, apple butter, peach pepper jelly, apple cider and sorghum syrup.
Here in Louisiana, we are blessed with a diversity of fresh fruit — peaches, blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, strawberries, watermelon, citrus fruits and figs –but it’s too hot for traditional apples. Eating an orchard gem like the ones at Mercier’s makes you appreciate how much better an apple is when it’s sold near its source. My favorite north GA apple is the Gold Rush, a crisp, sweet-tart multipurpose variety that’s great for snacking, cooking and baking. So far, I’ve used it in apple-brie breakfast quesadillas and chopped fine in salmon salad. I’ve also started delivering apples, along with the gorgeous citrus fruit emerging on our backyard trees, to my editors, clients and special friends.
It’s funny. It’s possible to mail order from Mercier’s, but I like the ritual of bringing home a bounty, feeling bummed when it runs out and looking forward to my next face-to-face visit.
Food torture is so satisfying!