Making the colors of summer last year-round

The colors of summer are as pretty as they are delicious and nutritious.

Just as I began to write about the colors of summer, a friend posted on social media about her visit to a local farmers market. In one digital photo, she succinctly summarized what I intended to say.

A cornucopia of vibrant colors from gardening harvests filled her photo. The variety of tomatoes alone captured nearly every hue of an artist’s paint pallet.

Ruby reds, luscious purples, warm yellows, and lime greens took center stage of their kitchen table. The light yellow of summer squash and the ribbed texture of a muskmelon represented the earthen tones.

A perfect emerald cucumber, the variegated rind of a watermelon, and a cluster of fresh basil leaves provided a generous sampling of the locally grown greens. The haul from your gardens, nearby produce stands, and farmers’ markets likely create similar still-life artistry.

Our house is no different, despite not having a garden. My wife does pamper a half dozen potted herb plants sitting on the white enamel top of an inherited old table on our patio.

Our daughter supplies us with all the plump, juicy, and tasty tomatoes that we can use from her garden. Her blackberry plants have produced an abundance of delicious tartness, too.

The half-box of organic fruits and vegetables we get each Monday from our Community Supporting Agriculture program assures that we maintain a healthy, flavorful diet. We also frequent several local produce businesses, mostly operated by the Shenandoah Valley’s Old Order Mennonites.

It that regard, we are reminded of our Ohio home, where we knew many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors personally. Somehow that seemed to make their homegrown offerings all the tastier.

My energetic wife ensures that we celebrate the summer’s colorful bounty all year long. Canning and freezing are in her farmer genes.

When it comes to preserving the downhome goodness of food, we have noticed a difference between living in Ohio versus residing in Virginia. Instead of in spurts, everything seems to come ripe at once in the valley.

One day we are canning peaches and the next day tomatoes. Those jars have barely stopped popping their lids when the sweet corn comes ready, tender, tasty, and delicious. The varieties here are as delicious as our Ohio favorite, Incredible.

We’ve also learned a few new tricks living in a new culture in a new state. We husk the sweet corn, clean it, and cut the kernels straight from the cobs. Neva fills the plastic containers, and when we want fresh corn at Thanksgiving, that’s when it gets cooked and not before.

Apples are next on the list. The sweet tartness of the ginger golds more than satisfy our family’s taste buds. Neva freezes enough for the grandkids, who usually finish off their supply long before Nana can do another batch.

Of course, canning and freezing are a lot of hard work. Sterilizing the jars and lids, cleaning the fruit and veggies, and peeling when required, all take time and effort. Then there is enduring the sauna-like heat at the height of the canning process in our tiny galley kitchen.

The vent fan works overtime, expelling the heat and steam to help cool the temporary cannery. But in the long run, it’s all well-worth every drop of sweat.

Come the cold, dark, dull months of winter, and we will have summer at mealtimes in our household. Those yellows, reds, and greens of the harvest will brighten any dark day and table, and make all of the perspiring worth the effort.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh
Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh
The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh
Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh
Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.