Food is Why We Garden

Sure, it's fine to grow all sorts of things in the garden, but what good are they unless you eat them? Several readers asked what interesting foods we found along the trail to Florida, so here's the wrap-up.
The next blog entries will be about the Missouri Organic Growers Conference in St. Louis. If you'd like to see who the other speakers are (there are about 70, I'm told) go here for the details. And if you can come to the conference, stop by my booth and say hi. My program is Edible Landscaping (or as I call it, "Dig up the yard and plant something useful."

Tomato gravy on grits.
The most unusual, or at least unfamiliar food I found on the trip South, was tomato gravy. It's common in southern Mississippi and Alabama. The recipe calls for flour browned in bacon grease to make a roux, to which you add canned tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Sadly, no herbs, which might give it flavor. My reaction upon eating the first bite (in spite of the waitress saying, "You'll just love it, I do!") was.....blech. It won't ever be on my list of favorite things. I don't even like canned tomato soup and this was worse.
Half rack of ribs at Central BBQ, Memphis
By far the best barbecue I found was at Central Barbecue in Memphis. Their barbecue sauce and baked beans are a much better use for tomatoes than tomato gravy! Memphis style ribs are a dry rub, the sauce is on the side.
Vietnamese soup, known as pho.
One of the best meals of the trip was Pho, a complex blend of spices, broth and flavors, served with lots of noodles and either round of beef, chicken or meatballs. Plus the Sides:
Traditional side for Pho.
Pho is always served with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno peppers, Thai or Vietnamese basil and topped off with culantro. If you don't know culantro, it is an Asian kind of cilantro (or coriander, depending on the reference you use). It's not an easy plant to grow as it requires a lot of moisture and shade. I brought several pots of culantro with me from Florida and I grow it for about 9 months of the year, although not always successfully.
Catfish near Truman, Arkansas
One of the best meals was the catfish plate at a little roadside barbecue place near Truman, Arkansas. Beans, cornbread, homemade coleslaw and perfectly fried catfish. That's the way catfish is done in the South.
Tamales and homemade salsa.
Equally as good were the tamales we found at a little roadside produce stand. They were, without a doubt, the best tamales I've ever eaten and the sauce was so hot I sweat. The corn for the tamales was local, the peppers in the sauce, was, as well. $4 worth of tamales and it was almost more than I could eat.
The famous Chatterbox Cafe chocolate pie.
But the prize was this, the famous chocolate pie from the Chatterbox Cafe just off highway 78, near Byhalia, Mississippi. Sherri and Barry McCallah got me hooked on this pie some years ago. It's not your ordinary chocolate pie, not pudding, it's more of a baked fudge pie, a real Southern thing. I've tried to concoct the recipe without success many times. I detoured well out of my way just to buy a pie to bring home. I'm doling it out in tiny pieces (it's too rich to eat more than a sliver). You can't find the Chatterbox on any Google searches so I'll post the details below. They also have lots of other homemade pies and desserts, plus exceptionally good catfish and coleslaw. But that pie....!!
I'm off to the Missouri Organic Conference, stop by and see us if you attend.

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