Open air market offers variety of produce, baked goods

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Photo by Robert Noles/Opelika Observer: Serenity Farms and Bakery provides fresh baked goods and more at the weekly O Grows Farmers Market

By Ann Cipperly

Freshly picked vegetables and fruits, along with homemade bakery goods, honey, jellies and other items, can be found on Tuesday afternoons at the O Grows Open Air Farmers Market.

The market, located on Glenn Street, across from the Southside Center for the Arts in Opelika, is held Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. through Aug. 25. 

Farmers from East Alabama display their bounty of summer vegetables and fruits on tables under white tents. They offer freshly picked produce at a good value. If COVID-19 has kept you out of the grocery store, the open air market gives you the opportunity to select your own produce without having to go inside a building.  

Locally grown vegetables and fruits offer more nutrients and a fresher taste than those shipped from other parts of the country. Buying from local farms is also beneficial to the community, as it supports local farmers. 

Along with a variety of produce, Serenity Farms and Bakery offer an outstanding array of homemade breads and assorted confections. Anna Freeman and Liana Freeman bake all day at their farm to provide freshly baked sourdough bread, braided French bread, whole wheat banana bread, cinnamon rolls, blueberry and lemon bread, assorted cookies, peach pies and many other homemade desserts. They accept debit and credit cards. 

The Freemans have been part of the market for several years. Originally, Anna and Liana’s older sister, Mary, helped with baking, as well as their mother Judy Freeman, who now helps with the garden. Anna and Liana are the master bakers, however. 

The women grind wheat berries to make whole-wheat flour for baking breads. Each bakery item is wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in plastic bags. 

Last year was Mary Finley’s first year at the market. She is a baker and offers an assortment of yummy whole cakes and cakes by the slice. All of the cakes are freshly baked and well wrapped. 

Susan Forbes is the O Grows market manager. She is at the market every week to answer questions. This past week she distributed bags of items from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

She also distributed complimentary face masks sewn by members of the OLLI program at Auburn University. O Grows purchased 100 masks from them to support OLLI to give to their community market supporters.

O Grows is an organization that engages students and citizens in gardening to address community service and food security. O Grows is building a reputation as a hub of local food systems by employing students, selling produce and donating produce to the Food Bank of East Alabama. 

Under the umbrella of Envision Opelika, a support system for the non-profit businesses of Opelika, O Grows began in 2012. Susan’s husband, Sean Forbes, the founder of O Grows, is a professor in education psychology at Auburn University. 

Originally, the garden was in front of the Southside Cultural Arts Center, where the market is being held. The garden was then moved to the back of the building where a greenhouse was constructed. Students at Auburn University helped with the project. 

“The Alabama Cooperative Extension System issues growers permits on behalf of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority,” Susan said. “These permits enable growers to sell at farmers markets. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Farmers Market Authority has modified some rules.

“Farmers markets, like grocery stores, are considered an essential food resource. They may prove to be even more important if larger supply chains are disrupted leading to shortages of agricultural products produced locally. 

“The following are best management practices collected from across the country for consideration. This will help minimize the spread of COVID-19 at markets while maintaining this essential food resource for our community and our vendors.”

The goal of the following practices is to minimize shopper time at the market and the spread of COVID-19. Although farmers markets are important community events, these measures will help the market to focus on its role as an essential food resource and protect public safety.

• No sampling

• No prepared foods or prepared foods to go ONLY. Everything must be pre-packaged to consume off site.

• Fewer non-food vendors

• No music, tabling, activities, promotions or pets

• Hand-washing stations/hand sanitizers for both vendors and customers

• Social distancing messaging and signage

• No customer contact with product (only vendors touch product until sold)

• Single use bags

• Increase the spacing between vendors to allow customers to maintain safe distance from each other and other vendors.

• Masks are required, as mandated by Gov. Ivey.

• If you do not feel well, please stay at home.

RECIPES:

Peach Balsamic Chicken

Susan Forbes

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, chopped

4 large Chilton county peaches, sliced

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup torn fresh basil

Salt and pepper and olive oil, as needed

Heat oil and cook chicken and transfer to plate. Add garlic and shallot and cook for a couple minutes. 

Add peaches and cook until soft, maybe about 5 minutes.

Pour in balsamic vinegar and simmer until slightly reduced, maybe a couple minutes. Stir in basil. Combine chicken with balsamic peaches and serve.

Creamy Chanterelle Mushroom Soup 

Kitty Greene 

8 oz. mushrooms

4 Tbsp. butter

2 cups diced shallot

1 pinch salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 drizzle olive oil

4 cups chicken stock

½ cup half-and-half

Rinse mushrooms and pat dry.  Slice in half.  Rinse off any bugs or dirt and chop.

Melt butter in a deep, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Stir mushrooms pieces into the shallots and toss in a generous pinch of salt to help draw out their juices. Add pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil.  

Continue to cook until mushroom pieces shrink in size and brown slightly, about 5 minutes.

Pour chicken stock into the pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, 10 to 20 minutes.

Ladle soup into a high-powered blender.  Cover and hold lid down with a potholder; blend on high until pureed, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add half-and-half and blend for 1 minute more.  Return blended soup to the pot.  Heat until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning. Makes 4 servings.

Fresh Peach Pie

Kitty Greene 

2 ½ cups fresh peaches (divided)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

½ cup sugar

1 Tbsp. cornstarch 

2 tsp. butter

½ tsp. almond extract

1 pie crust

Slice 2 cups fresh ripe peaches and mix with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice and ½ cup sugar.  Let mixture stand for at least 1 hour. Drain liquid from peaches into a pot. 

Mix cornstarch with a small amount of water, and add to mixture along with the other half cup of sliced peaches.  Cook for a few minutes until thickened. 

Add 2 tsp. butter and ½ tsp. almond extract to the mixture.  

Put drained, sliced peaches in a baked pie crust and pour cooked peach mixture over the top.  Mix very gently.  Cool first or eat right away.

Charred Cabbage

Susan Forbes

1/2 head cabbage (Napa, green or red)

1 Tbsp. sunflower oil or other high smoke point oil

2 to 4 Tbsp. butter, divided

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Fresh lemon juice, to taste

Cut the halved cabbage into quarters to make four wedges. Preheat a large pan on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add oil to coat the bottom, and let the oil heat up for about a minute. 

Add cabbage wedges and give the pan a shake coat in oil. Let the cabbage cook (and burn) for about 7 minutes until charred. 

Flip wedges to char the opposite side and add 2 Tbsp. butter to the pan. As the second side cooks for another 7 minutes, spoon butter from pan over the wedges. The butter should brown, but if it blackens too much, add additional butter to cool it down.

When both sides of cabbage wedges are charred, season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper along with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 

Easy Lemon Cucumber Pickles

Christine Litas, Opelika Community Garden Member 

1½ lbs. lemon cucumbers, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

½ medium onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp. salt

½ tsp. celery seed

½ tsp. mustard seed

½ tsp. dried dill weed

½ tsp. pickling spice

½ cup sugar

1 cup white vinegar

Thinly slice the cucumbers, bell pepper and onion. 

Put cucumbers, bell pepper, onion and garlic in a large glass or other non-reactive bowl.

Add salt and other seasoning; toss well. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Combine sugar and vinegar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove from heat.

Pour over the vegetables and allow to cool.

Place the pickles in a lidded container ,and store in the refrigerator.

Cherry Tomato Salad

Cathey Donald

3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup sliced green onions

¼ cup flat-leaf fresh parsley, chopped, optional

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 ½ Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Combine first 5 ingredients. Mix together vinegar, oil and mustard; drizzle over tomatoes and toss.

Squash Casserole

Mary Barnes Newman

2 cups cooked, drained squash

1 egg, beaten

4 Tbsp. butter

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup onions, finely chopped

½ cup pecans, chopped

1 small jar pimento, diced

½ tsp. sugar

1 or more cups grated American cheese

Breadcrumbs

Mash squash and butter together; add other ingredients except breadcrumbs; season with salt and pepper. Place into a buttered casserole.  Top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Serves six. 

Oven Roasted Green Beans

1 to 2 lbs. green beans

Olive oil

Kosher salt

1 tomato, chopped, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a cookie sheet with a rim, drizzle olive oil over green beans; season to taste with salt. Roast 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with chopped tomato, if desired. 

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Peaches and Tomatoes

Susan Forbes

1 lb. on-vine small tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

1 lb. peaches, cut into wedges

1 large red onion, cut into thin half-moons (2 1/2 cups)

4 Tbsp. olive

Kosher salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. honey

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

8 8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange tomatoes, peaches and onion in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. oil; sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Toss to coat; spread in an even layer.

In a large bowl combine remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, garlic, mustard, vinegar, honey, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Whisk to combine. Add chicken; turn to coat.

Arrange chicken breasts in another shallow baking pan. Drizzle chicken with any remaining mustard mixture. Place both pans in oven on separate racks. Roast 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken is done (165°F), stirring tomato mixture halfway and rotating pans top to bottom. 

Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, continue roasting tomato mixture until vegetables just begin to brown.

Cut chicken into thick slices, transfer to a platter and top with tomato mixture. Serves 8.

Note: If desired, brown the chicken after coating with mustard mixture. In a12-inch skillet heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high. Add half the chicken. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. 

Transfer to a shallow baking pan. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding more oil to skillet if needed. Roast as directed. 

Make-Ahead Tip: Assemble as directed (do not brown chicken). Chill, covered, up to 8 hours before roasting.

Fig Preserves

Paula Harris

2 qt. (about 4½ lb.) figs

7 cups sugar

½ cup lemon juice

1½ qt. water

2 lemons, thinly sliced

Cook figs 15-20 minutes in enough boiling water to cover; drain figs and set aside. Combine sugar, lemon juice and 1½ quarts water in a large Dutch oven; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Add figs; return to a boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lemon slices and boil 15 minutes or until figs are tender.

Carefully remove figs from syrup with a slotted spoon. Boil syrup an additional 10 minutes or until desired thickness.

Return figs to syrup; skim off foam.

Quickly ladle preserves in hot sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Cover with lids; process in boiling water bath 30 minutes. Makes 5 half-pints. 

Southern Okra

Judy Freeman

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 cups sliced fresh okra

Boiling water to cook okra

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Cooked rice, optional

Combine the first four ingredients; set aside. 

In a covered saucepan, cook okra in boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Sauté onion and pepper until tender. Stir in sugar-flour mixture and tomatoes; cook 5 minutes. Add okra and simmer until heated through, stirring as little as possible.

Serve with rice, if desired.

Spicy Asian Pickles

Christine Litas, Opelika Community Garden Member 

1/4 cup rice vinegar

4 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. fish sauce

1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

2 small English hothouse cucumbers

Whisk rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and crushed red pepper in large bowl. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and Chill. Slice cucumbers crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Add cucumber slices to vinegar mixture; toss. Cover and chill ten minutes to 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Fiery Roasted Salsa 

Christine Litas, Opelika Community Garden Member 

5 lbs. tomatoes ( 1/2 heirloom/regular, 1/2 Roma)

2 lbs. bell peppers, plus 6-8 hot chiles like jalapenos, cayenne, habaneros in the mix (depending on how hot you like it)

1 lb. white onions, diced, divided

2 cloves garlic

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

2 1/2 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but really adds another layer of flavor)

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

3 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Turn broiler of the oven on. Wash and dry tomatoes, peppers and chilies. 

Spread tomatoes and peppers on a sheet pan and roast them under the broiler until their skin is blistered. Flip and roast on the other side. Remove from oven and put bell peppers in a paper bag and seal (this will make them easy to peel).

Blend the tomatoes, their juice, garlic, half of the diced onions and hot peppers (stems removed) in the blender until smooth. (Leaving the skins on gives the salsa a smoky flavor.) Remove the peppers from the bag, peel, and dice.

Add all the ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the salsa is simmering, prepare the hot water bath and heat the pint jars and lids. Ladle hot salsa into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.

Wipe rims and add the lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at a full rolling boil.

Chinese Stir-Fried Eggplant and Green Beans

Christine Litas, Opelika Community Garden Member 

2 long Chinese purple eggplants, cut into thin strips

6 oz. green beans, rinsed and ends trimmed

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

1 half-inch thumb ginger, julienned

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 red chili pepper, sliced thinly (optional, for heat)

2 Tbsp. light soy sauce

1 Tbsp. vegetarian oyster sauce/stir-fry sauce

1/8 tsp. ground white pepper

Additional salt to taste, if needed

Cut eggplants into thin strips (about 1/4 inch in width) and place in a bowl. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Add enough water to cover and let soak in the salt water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry (you want to remove as 

much moisture as possible).

In a wok or skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium heat. Add eggplant strips and fry until tender and slightly golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and green beans and fry for 5 minutes, until surface is wrinkled. Remove from pan.

Add garlic, ginger and chopped chili and stir-fry for one minute until fragrant. Then return green beans and eggplant to the pan. 

Stir in soy sauce, oyster sauce and white pepper; toss to combine. Serve hot.

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