A Food Farmer’s Favorite Summer Foods

Let’s break down this idea into three basic food categories—actually, two categories, since we don’t grow chocolate around here. I’ll start with plants but have to pay homage to my favorite grilled meats at the end. I hope my plant-based friends will stay for the whole thing.  

Summer veggies are so short-lived in Kentucky, I tend to eat my weight in them while they’re available. Especially when we keep our cooking methods simple, they just seem to vanish off our plates, right before our eyes. 

Heirloom Tomatoes

There is nothing simpler than slicing a ripe heirloom tomato. For me, all I need is a little salt and pepper and a good, organic, creamy blue cheese dressing, and I’m good to go. You can find lettuce or spinach or arugula or mizuna or some fresh-eating greens most all year from Elmwood Stock Farm, so tossing our greens with tomatoes and some homemade yogurt dressing dujour is our go-to dinner in the hectic summer months.

Since Cecil Bell, the patriarch of the farm and lifelong beef farmer, will only fix burgers when our black or purple tomatoes are primo, we will grab big-bun-sized slicers for those. 

Timing is everything with fresh produce, so Cecil picks out his tomatoes a few days before dinner to let them ripen to perfection, as you should, too. Buy your pineapples and pears a week or more ahead of when you want them, peaches and tomatoes a few days before using. 

When you’re ordering tomatoes through our online store, you can state your preferred level of ripeness in the Order Notes. When you’re shopping for tomatoes at the farmers market, be gentle with these beautiful fruits! 

In my tips for shopping at the farmers market, I cover proper tomato-handling techniques, and those are worth revisiting here: Tomatoes are not to be tested for firmness with your thumb or any other digit. Train your eye to the nuance of color shading. If you must touch them, gently place the palm of your hand over the tomato and gently begin to grip it like a ball to exert even pressure over the entire area of your hand. You will know right away whether there is any need to pick it up. Rings and jewelry are piercing tools, so please watch not to puncture the neighboring tomatoes. And please, do not drop them carelessly into your bag after being weighed, after all we have done to get them there, because they will be bruised when you get home and then you will blame it on us. 

Summer Squash

Zucchini—sliced thin longways, drizzled with a little organic olive oil, salt and peppered to taste, grilled on fairly high heat for a few minutes—is a summertime favorite, for sure. Leave it on the grill long enough, for some good char caramelizes the sugars and enhances the flavor. Cook more than you think you need to dice on top of a salad for a little pizazz. 

Yellow squash is good also, although zucchini gets me credit for a green vegetable—although it is mostly white and, well, I eat plenty of really green vegetables anyway. 

Steamed Greens

Speaking of green veggies, we keep a bowl of kale salad in the fridge most of the time, but that’s not specific to summertime.

Our stainless-steel steamer pot essentially lives on the stove or in the dishwasher year-round. People can reel off these elaborate, time-consuming recipes for cooking kale, collards, mizuna or Asian greens. When you have fresh, organic ingredients, all you have to do is: stem, steam and serve.

All-Veggie Sauté

For a quick sauté in olive oil, we throw in whatever vegetables are available. Squash, carrots, cabbage, hakurei turnips, diced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, rainbow Swiss chard—any combination is great. This is an excellent use for items in the fridge with a little age on them. Just don’t cook them so long that they get too mushy, although I like mine softer than lots of people prefer. 

Organic, Pasture-Raised Meats

Then there are proteins. A juicy, grilled grass-fed, organic, Wagyu-Angus beef burger, pasture-raised-chicken thigh and Berkshire pork chop are tied for my No. 1. Tied for No. 2 are a juicy, grilled grass-fed, organic, Wagyu-Angus beef burger (this is not a typo), pasture-raised-chicken legs, or a grilled Wagyu-Angus beef sausage or Berkshire pork sausage from Elmwood Stock Farm. Don’t overcook these. Salt and pepper them when they go on the grill and when you flip them—except the sausages; they are perfectly seasoned already.

So, to eat like a food farmer; keep it simple. Start with fresh, local, organic ingredients. Cut up the vegetables, put dressing on them, and call it a salad. Or grill, steam or sauté; season with salt, pepper, some of our farm’s garlic powder or herbs of choice; and dinner is served. 

Fast, simple, and good for you—those are my favorite foods. —Mac Stone

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