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Apples, Local, Travels

On the road: Georgia makes good apples

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!

Holiday, Vegetables

Sweet potatoes in fresh orange cups

We eat a ton of fresh Louisiana sweet potatoes around my house. My mother-in-law just dropped off a box she’d procured from a farmer near the Avoyelles Parish town of Hessmer and it came with the same edict it does every time she brings us a batch. “Leave them dirty. Don’t wash them until you cook them.” It’s a sacred procedure among many in the Bayou State. More about that here.

On busy weeknights, I often cube sweet potatoes, toss them in olive oil and chopped rosemary and roast them on a cookie sheet. But during holidays my favorite version involves a simple mash of sweet potatoes blended with just a few ingredients and baked in a fresh orange shell.

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Local, Vegetables

Casserole conflict? The green bean solution.

How to serve green beans is one of the more hotly debated holiday meal topics, with some cooks sticking with the classic gooey casserole formula and others going minimalist. It’s not unusual for families to be divided along these lines (mine sure has been) with die-hards staying loyal to that homespun pan of creamy indulgence and the texture-conscious going for beans sautéed quickly and perhaps set off by lemons or almonds. Well, here’s a way to make both extremes happy. Cook your green beans simply, but serve them with a topping bar that will allow guests to get as straightforward or saucy as they like. Green beans, God bless ‘em, pair well with a wide range of flavors and textures. A day or two before the holiday, trim and blanch the green beans, then reserve them in a food storage bag until you’re ready to cook. Saute at the last minute in olive oil, butter and minced garlic. Then let your guests have their way with toppings like these:

  • Roasted cashews with fresh rosemary
  • Creamy mushroom sauce with splash of sherry
  • Sauteed pine nuts with lemon peel
  • Toasted almonds
  • Hollandaise sauce
  • Curls of fresh parmesan
  • Mornay sauce (Bechamel sauce with added grated cheese, usually Swiss)
  • Caramelized onions or shallots
  • Diced avocado, fresh tomato and lime (you can still find Louisiana tomatoes at the farmers market into November)
  • Local Meyer lemon wedges
  • Peanut or satay sauce (Amazing with green beans! Really.)
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Homemade chow chow
  • Chutney
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds
  • And yes, even canned French fried onions


Citrus, Kumquats

Kumquat honey sorbet

Just for kicks, what would you make for a holiday dessert if pie wasn’t an option? I threw that question out to my Facebook friends before Thanksgiving and, just to be mean, I also forbade bread pudding. Once we got past some initial protestations, a flood of interesting responses rolled in that clearly got everyone excited about the holiday table. I don’t mean to suggest you really can’t serve pie or bread pudding, but thinking beyond them is a fun way to get the creative juices flowing. Turkey and side dishes are often shackled by tradition, but the dessert course is an open playing field that begs for new additions. My friends were all over the map with suggestions like custard, pots de crème, cheesecakes (pumpkin being the frontrunner) and fruit crumbles. A hometown friend said nuts and Port, and a couple of folks tossed out sorbet. Sorbet seemed like a great place to start fiddling around, and the kumquats ripening in my backyard were perfect fodder. This is easy and you can make it ahead. Oh, and it does not require a sorbet or ice cream maker. Long live simplicity.

Kumquat Honey Sorbet

Serves 6

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 cups (1 pint) ripe kumquats, plus 3-4 few extra

1 tablespoon honey

Fresh mint and candied kumquats for garnish

Slice kumquats in half across the middle and remove seeds. Add to a food processor and pulse until pureed. Scrape into a medium size bowl. Add honey and simple syrup, which should be room temperature or cool. Pour mixture into an 8×8 glass pan and freeze for a few hours, until mostly firm but not quite set. Working in batches, run the nearly frozen mixture through a blender or food processor. The color will mellow and the consistency will become creamier. Spoon back into glass pan and refreeze a few hours until firm. When ready to serve, allow sorbet to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Scoop into a pretty glass and serve with fresh mint and candied kumquats.

Candied Kumquats

Bring 1 cup water to boil. Turn off heat and add ½ cup sugar. Whisk vigorously. Slice the extra kumquats crosswise into thin slices – as many as you need for garnish. Remove seeds. Drop into warm simple syrup in saucepan and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. When ready, garnish sorbet.