SC Squash is Simply Perfect, Simply Fresh on the Menu at Roastfish & Cornbread on Hilton Head Island

Could there be a more versatile or easily grown-at-home vegetable than the squash? Specifically I am referring to the summer squash and zucchini squash which I grew up tending in my parent’s backyard garden. We started ours from seed, sowed in “hills” along the far end of the garden in mid to late April (depending on what my Dad said was the best plating date, which he determined after consulting the holy grail of gardening – the Farmers Almanac). We all got into the farming spirit on planting day – starting early in morning, the earth still cool and damp underfoot with my Dad decked out in his work pants, old straw hat and worn work gloves – quite the opposite of the business suit he donned during the work week. With Mom “supervising” (there was never a lack of instruction, believe me) and my Dad humming or whistling a tune (usually gospel or Elvis) we made short work of it and before the sun could reach it’s highest point we were done for the day, lunch waiting on the screened porch.

Within a few days the seeds sprouted, followed by green clumps perched on each “hill”. A few days later, the plants would spread out runners, their broad leaves covering the ground so thickly it would be difficult to tell where one plant ended and another began. Soon the burgeoning blooms offered up little yellow and green prizes – the first squash of the season. For a young’in it was a thrill to trot out to the garden first thing in the morning, searching for the treasure that lay underneath the massive growth that seemed to envelope the garden overnight. Maybe there would even be a gargantuan squash – one that was previously overlooked and morphed into a giant – fun for us kids but disconcerting for my mother. There’s no way to adequately prepare a monster squash and make it deliciously edible, at least not amongst the dozen or so methods my Mom had mastered. Even today I don’t have a clue what to do with them other than use as a table centerpiece or maybe a doorstop.

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Local and Fresh Meet Their Match at WiseGuys!

I am sure I am not the only one who has made up recipes based on what was bought that day at the farmers market. If you are lucky enough to have one nearby (Hilton Head Island Farmers Market opens April 1 and Bluffton’s Farmers Market opened on March 17) and you are a foodie like me, it is difficult to stay away. Just last weekend, I came away with a bagful of crispy radishes, a bunch of neon-red beets and my creative juices reinvigorated after a stop at a large Atlanta area market, the Dekalb farmers market, while away for the weekend. Whilst I am not exaggerating when I state I could have blissfully spent the entire day between the stalls, I will acknowledge my self-sacrifice in leaving after only about an hour – husband and 3 year old in tow. Better for us all to leave now I thought – before the slightly beleaguered pre-schooler gets fussy (i.e. loud & weepy) and the hubby gives me that, “are you done yet” look, again.

But I was content and good-to-go with everything I needed to make a yummy dinner plus a chance to play around with some über-fresh ingredients in my sister’s large kitchen. For those who are lucky to live in Hilton Head Island or are visiting the Island and environs for any stretch of time, the availability of local, seasonal ingredients from the farmers market is a summer bonus – a boon for foodies and local chefs alike. So if your Island weekend away will not include an encounter with pot nor pan, know this – local, seasonal “farmers market” freshness is as close as a fabulous dining experience at one of the Island’s Fresh on the Menu member restaurants or businesses.

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Market Days are Fresh on the Menu in Hilton Head Island!

Growing up in South Carolina, a Saturday trip to the farmers market was an outing that I always looked forward to: picking out seedling plants for our own garden and a couple of bunches of colorful greens in spring; thumping a watermelon or two and picking a basket of perfect peaches in summer; choosing a Halloween pumpkin in fall; and selecting an evergreen tree and fresh wreath for the holidays. The big commercial farms shipped out their crates of produce off the side and front but Saturday mornings were strictly set aside for the small, local farmers to sell their homegrown crops and sideline products like fruit syrups, honey, preserves and boiled peanuts. The area farmers would back their trucks up neatly under the metal stalls and set up shop pretty much every Saturday once the weather warmed and early crops like lettuces, asparagus, peas, turnips, carrots, radishes and, of course strawberries and rhubarb, were ripe.

Opening day for the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market is Saturday, April 1.
Going local is still important to me, not only because every dollar spent with a local farmer circulates within the community many times before leaving, unlike those spent a grocery store, which leaves immediately, but also because the produce or ingredient that was picked today tastes so much better than the one picked a week ago in Latin America. And it’s fun to go the farmers market to boot. You can talk to the farmer who grew what you will be having for dinner tonight! If you are like me, your head will be spinning with recipe ideas and your back seat overflowing with bags of vegetables and baskets of fruit.Opening day for the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market is Saturday, April 1.

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Sallie Ann Robinson’s “Daufuskie Way” is Fresh on the Menu

As people who love to cook, we have a lot to inspire us these days: local farm stand and market ingredients, enthusiastic chefs eager to share their knowledge (and their recipes!), the media (TV, blogs, magazines) brimming with information for the bon vivant in all of us and – in my opinion – the places we’ve been and the people we’ve shared those spaces with throughout our lives. It’s the story that rings true for many a Southern cook – upbringing plays the essential role in their attitude toward food and the inspiration in their recipes. For local Daufuskie Island cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson this is especially true. Sallie Ann acquired her cooking skills and love of freshness and seasonality growing up on the isolated and hauntingly beautiful sea island where such things were part of her everyday life.

Big Oak with Spanish Moss on Daufuskie Island, SC
I had the pleasure of speaking with Sallie Ann recently. With an expressive voice and friendly laugh, Sallie Ann reminisced about her childhood growing up on an island which is accessible only by boat and where everyone traditionally ate what they grew in the soil, caught in the river, and hunted in the woods. Living on Daufuskie was a hard way of life, but according to Sallie Ann, she never realized this because she and her family never knew any different. “Even though we had so little, we were happy. We did not have any stress; we were always learning – planting and tending the garden and enjoying the reward of the harvest – it teaches you appreciation,” Sallie tells me.

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Redfish Always Serves it up Fresh On the Menu

It would seem like once you get to be an adult, and an adventurous eater at that, new foods would require a passport, extra bag fees and various immunizations. Truth is, that exotic foodie experience is as close as a long weekend trip to Hilton Head Island. Grab your bags and head to the Island for sunny skies and a sampling of the best Lowcountry restaurants and chefs have to offer – no matter if you’re a wine connoisseur, gourmand-in-training or a seasoned foodie. The folks involved with the Hilton Head Wine & Food Festival have given me a peek at the menus for the Great Chef’s of the South Dinners and some of the other events like the Grand Tasting and the public tasting (Winefest). So much deliciousness to taste and so little time to diet!

Chef Sean Walsh of Redfish (with Chef Chaun Bescos of Alexander’s) amongst last year’s tomato crop at Bear Island Farms. You can’t get much more local than this!

Chef Sean Walsh of Redfish (with Chef Chaun Bescos of Alexander’s) amongst last year’s tomato crop at Bear Island Farms. You can’t get much more local than this!
I spied a favorite restaurant participating in the Great Chefs dinners lineup and as luck would have it; I had just interviewed the chef, Sean Walsh. Chef Sean is executive chef of Redfish in Hilton Head. Like their sister restaurant, Alexander’s, Redfish is a member of the Fresh on the Menu program and serving locally grown produce and products is a priority at the restaurant. Chef Sean tells me that they are gearing up for a bountiful spring and summer courtesy of the harvest expected from their company-owned property, Bear Island Farms.

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Days of Wine & Great Food In Hilton Head Island!

This time of year Hilton Head Island finds itself on the cusp of spring. When the azalea buds are ready to burst forth with a colorpunch of pink and purple and the warm, sunny afternoons simply demand a leisurely walk along the beach, locals and visitors in-the-know ready themselves for festival season in the Lowcountry. My all time favorite local festival combines two of my passions – great local food and terrific wine from all over the world – the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival. Starting out 26 years ago as a modest, low-key affair simply called Winefest, the festival has grown into a multi-day event including Great Chefs of the South dinners, a Grand Wine Tasting & Auction and a public wine tasting event, Winefest, held at the grounds of historic Honey Horn . In fact, Winefest is considered one of the largest outdoor wine tastings on the East Coast. But to me is so much more – an event that truly showcases the best characteristics of Hilton Head Island – southern hospitality, delicious food prepared with care by local restaurateurs and a relaxed, fun atmosphere perfect for groups of friends, couples and even multi-generational families. Winefest has provided me with many fond memories and a whole collection of wine glasses over the years! And I do have some insider information on the festival that I am happy to share.

The 2011 Festival includes Great Chefs dinners, a Grand Tasting and Wine Auction as well as the public wine tasting at Honey Horn.
The 2011 Festival includes Great Chefs dinners, a Grand Tasting and Wine Auction as well as the public wine tasting at Honey Horn.

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