Watermelon Salsa

Herb Shop porch, looking out on one part of the garden.
These two areas, above, are in and near the garden look and wonderfully cool, don't they? But like much of the U.S. today, it's sweltering hot. We've been above 100 degrees F. most of this week. Fireworks displays in most towns are cancelled due to fire dangers. It's bleak, pastures and lawns are just crispy sticks, ponds are dry. We're watering the garden here on a daily basis, trying to keep the plants alive and growing.

Here's hopefully a small bit of inspiration, a half watermelon filled with watermelon salsa. I made it to take to a picnic at our friends' house this evening. You might like to make this over the Independence Day holidays, too. Yes, it will look better surrounded with chips and other food, but I took the photo before I left for the party.
The flavors of sweet watermelon, crispy peppers, peaches and avocados go well together!
I'd like to say this recipe is from my book, Sensational Salsas from Apple to Zucchini, and I do have a really good watermelon salsa recipe there, but this one was inspired by the Avocado Association newsletter this week. I had to tinker with their recipe a bit to suit my tastes, so here's my revised recipe:

Watermelon, Peach and Avocado Salsa

1 half seedless watermelon, innards chopped and drained
2 whole avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 peaches, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix and chill, then fill the scooped-out watermelon and take to the party with chips.

Muscadines growing on gazebo post.
The muscadines are ripe this week on the gazebo (some of the other varieties aren't ready yet). If you aren't familiar with muscadines, they're a Southern variety of grapes. Thirty three years ago when I moved here, our weather wouldn't have allowed muscadines to grow, but in that period of time, we have warmer winters and such plants thrive here. Muscadines do better in the Ozarks than many other grapes simply because they don't suffer from many of the grape diseases, fungus and the like. I never have to spray muscadines - I always had to spray regular grapes, and I like the flavor of these better. Muscadines have a lot more sugar, some varieties taste like a burst of grape jelly in your mouth!
If you'd like more salsa recipes to help you keep cool in this miserable heat, order my book, Sensational Salsas. It's full of my recipes for such things as Banana Salsa (it's a favorite in my salsa workshops!), Watermelon Salsa with Black Pepper, Cantaloupe Salsa and many, many more - yes, even one for Zucchini!

The Salsa book is on sale this month when you buy Easy Dips Using Herbs, too. Here's the link to my website.

Stay out of the heat if you can, drink plenty of liquids, move slow and be safe. Happy gardening!


Nail Fungus Soak and Garden Open House

Blue chicory borders the roadsides leading to Long Creek Herbs.
Today was our annual Garden Open House. We were really pleased to have readers of this blog, FaceBook followers and folks who ready my bi-weekly newspaper columns come to visit. Those who came earliest were treated to the sky-blue "hedges" of chicory. This view, from inside my truck, above, doesn't do justice to the bright blue flowers. There are 6 miles of chicory in bloom each morning, both sides of the road.

The Herb Shop.

Front door to shop.
Inside the Herb Shop
The Herb Shop has been remodeled since last year's Open House. Those visitors who came last year got to see the changes. Everyone got a preview of some of our new products that aren't in our catalogs yet.
Old Amish Formula to stop Acid Reflux in one of our new products this year.
We had lots of our No-Itch formula on hand. I make this in small batches every year.
But the day was really about visiting. We had gardeners from as far away as Texas. Some came from Mansfield, Shell Knob, Kimberling City and other Missouri towns, as well as gardeners from several towns in Arkansas. The Springfield Herb Club, a great group of folks, were well represented with several folks as well as long time friends from surrounding towns. People toured the garden, asked questions, traded information, took pictures, made notes and spent time sitting on the Herb Shop porch and drinking cold-pressed mint tea and lavender cookies. Those who climbed the steps under the bell tower got this view, below.
The driveway was full all day, people coming and going.
The garden was never crowded, people were spread out all day, starting with photographers and art guild folks arriving at 8:30 and others coming in the afternoon. It was a full day of garden fun and a whole lot of people!
Nina holding Molly.
Molly, one of our 2 Jack Russels, held court and made sure everything was running smoothly.
By late afternoon the garden pathways were empty of visitors and I turned the sprinklers on.
We're dry here, it's taking constant watering to keep the garden looking good and producing.
Books in bay window inside Herb Shop.
Herbal Nail Fungus Soak.
It was a great day for us, getting to visit with lots of gardeners, see old friends and meet new ones and just generally getting to talk gardening. The cookies got eaten, the cold-pressed mint tea was drained and it was great fun having everyone visit. The Herb Shop is only open for special occasions like today, and for groups that reserve well in advance. Otherwise you can find us on-line at Long Creek Herbs. Look for our new products in the next few weeks, along with our best sellers like Herbal Nail Fungus Soak, Arkansas Permanent Stone Nail Files and our books.
Late afternoon in the garden.


Blackberry Basil Sorbet

Blackberry Basil Sorbet with Lavender Cookie.

Thornless Ouchita blackberries are a breeze to pick.

We've been growing thornless blackberries for a decade or more. They're disease resistant, reliable producers and have wonderful flavor. Last night we made my favorite, Blackberry-Basil Sorbet.

Dark Opal basil.

Purple Ruffles basil.

Greek Columnar basil works great, too.

I first concocted this tasty dessert many years ago. There was a film crew and a t.v. host coming from one of the t.v. stations in Little Rock, AR to do a story on my garden. They were to arrive at 10:30 a.m.

 I learned years ago that when media people are coming that close to meal time, if I feed them from the garden, they make the connection that garden is, first and foremost. food, not just a pretty landscape. So, I planned a pretty adventurous journey into garden foods for the crew. As I was walking in the garden thinking about what I wanted them to focus on, it struck me - oh my gosh, I  had planned the complete meal, but no dessert! I wandered the herb beds and saw the Dark Opal basil and it occurred to me - purple basil + blackberries should make a good combination.

New these are about $60 but they're pretty easy to find at thrift shops for $5.

I always keep my ($5 yard sale find) Donvier sorbet maker in the freezer, almost year 'round. Just the day before I'd picked blackberries and turned them into juice in readiness for making jelly. The juice was cold - a requirement for making sorbet (if you start with hot or warm juice, it may not freeze correctly). Since it only takes 15 minutes start to finish to make a batch of sorbet, I gathered the basil and took it to the house. The crew was due to arrive at 10:30, it was already now 10:15. I put the basil in a blender, added the juice, some sugar and fresh lemon juice and whirred it up smooth. I poured the mixture into the frozen container of the Donvier mixer and cranked it a turn every couple of minutes. It was finished just as they drove into the driveway.

Lots and lots of great recipes for sorbet.

My recipe is at the end of this post, is from my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets. Summertime is a great time for making these simple, quick desserts. I've gone to using Truvia/Stevia in place of sugar, so the desserts are low-calorie, healthy and fantastic on hot summer evenings!

You can order the book from my website. You'll also find it in many seed company catalogs and websites. Making sorbet is so easy, you'll laugh and wonder why you haven't been making them before. Even a bottle of cranberry-raspberry juice can be turned into easy sorbet in just minutes! (Recipes in my book).

Hally Tatum, amazed at how fast it was to make sorbet.
You know when it's done because you can't turn the crank any longer.
Last night we had guests from Arkansas, Dr. Hally Tatum and his daughter, Lisa (husband and daughter of the late Billy Joe Tatum). I gave the job of making sorbet to Hally. He said he'd never made sorbet before, but with a turn of the crank every couple of minutes during conversation, the sorbet was done in about 12 minutes.

Blackberry Basil Sorbet
from Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets, Jim Long

Approx. 4 cups blackberry juice, strained of seed
2 4-inch sprigs any kind basil, leaves and stems
3/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup stevia or Truvia
Juice of 1 freshly-squeezed lemon

Pour into a blender and blend until the basil is no longer visible - about 2 minutes
Chill the juice for at least 2 hours.

Pour into sorbet maker, filling three-fourths of the way to the top. Turn (or turn on if using electric sorbet maker) and turn every couple of minutes until frozen - about 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately or put in refrigerator for 30 minutes until ready to serve. (I served this with my Lavender Cookies from an earlier post).

Blackberry Basil Sorbet, Lavender cookie, blueberries and whipped cream.
Hally, Lisa, Josh, with lightning bugs in the background. I love summer!


Elements of a Successful Farmers MarketA

A thriving, robust farmers market is an asset to any community.

Farmers markets date back to the beginnings of our nation. Often the market was informal, simply a gathering of farmers who drove their team and wagon to the town square and sold their excess produce. The historic Soulard Farmers Market in St. Louis is the oldest continually operating farmers market west of the Mississippi River, dating to 1779. East of the Mississippi, there were even older established markets in the East.

After World War 2, at the beginning of the Baby Boom, grocery stores sprang up in newly built communities and farmers markets slowly faded away. But in recent years there's been a remarkable resurgence of the farmers market model and many communities have embraced and encouraged these markets in their area. It's evident, though, as I travel around the country visiting markets, that not all farmers markets share the same benefits. I've visited farmers markets in many countries, as well, and all share most of the same elements of our best ones in the U.S. I decided to make a list of what elements appear to go into making the most successful farmers markets. My survey isn't precise, it's simply my own observations based on visiting a lot of markets in many states.

Water for vendors and visitors.

First and foremost, the most important element I found in a successful market, is how enthusiastically the city itself encourages the market. I visited several small town markets and the ones that struggled the most and had the fewest vendors, all voiced one opinion: the city where the market was located was barely tolerated by the city government. In some instances, the city had made finding space difficult, insisting the market take the worst spots in town and changing every year where vendors were allowed. Some small towns required expensive permits. However, cities that offered encouragement and welcomed the vendors, had the most thriving markets.

Here's my list of what it takes for a successful farmers market in a community:

1- Encouragement from the city in the way of space for the market. That includes simple things like giving vendors a predictable space, year after year, where shoppers can find them and that is cordoned off so that traffic doesn't present danger to shoppers. Having restrooms open and available for vendors and shoppers is important. Vendors having access to water, both drinking water and for watering their plants during the hours they are selling, is equally important. It was startling to see how many towns with struggling markets, closed their restrooms on weekends, and wouldn't allow access to water. Making vendor fees and applications simple and easy, is also important. When a city tries to price the vendors out of business in the hope the market will go away, is detrimental to all, including the city.

Market location and signs are important.

2- Help from the city with advertising the market, with city businesses taking advantage of the increased traffic flow to the market. Something as simple as letting the market organizers use the city photocopy machine for flyers, can be a big help. Groups such as Rotary, Lions, Elks and others, giving some encouragement can be vital, as well. When civic organizations were involved and told their members about the good things the market was doing for the community, it was always helpful.

Some civic groups get involved in the markets with selling their cookbooks, encouraging new members to join, such as art guilds and neighbor-to-neighbor groups like Welcome Wagon, and find that farmers markets are an excellent way to bring in new volunteers.

Wide assortments of produce entices customers, like these purple and yellow cauliflower heads.

3- Local businesses supporting the market, even in small ways. I participated in a market last year set up on a town square. There were about a dozen vendors with fresh produce 2 days a week. Within the square were 6 restaurants and not a one of the owners or chefs ever bought a single item. People who shopped there were seen by businesses as "blocking traffic" and an irritation to the store owners rather than seeing the increased traffic flow as an asset. (In one town I visited, businesses put up signs on their entry doors, "Restrooms open only for our customers" to prevent market shoppers from going inside).
A diverse population of races, age groups and education levels is a positive thing.
4- A diverse, multi-generational population. Retirement communities and tourist towns seems to struggle the most with having successful farmers markets. Farmers markets bring in younger, well-educated shoppers who see the importance of local, often organic food and want to support area growers. 

Resting places for shoppers to rest and visit are important.
Here are a few additional elements I found at recent markets that are also helpful. Drinking fountains in the area, operational and turned on. Seating areas for shoppers - this can be as simple as benches, walls, anything where shoppers can rest and visit. Space and encouragement for entertainers. The market in Fayetteville, AR (Tuesdays and Saturdays) gives space on all 4 sides of the square for budding entertainers to have an hour to play, sing, juggle, etc. Access to restrooms is important, too. Encouragement for shoppers to bring their dogs, with signs reminding people to clean up after their dogs gave opportunity for shoppers to spend some time with their pets in a social setting.

Encouragement for young musicians to try out their craft.

At one market I found the County Extension Office with a booth and table, with garden insect displays and someone on hand to answer questions about garden bug pests. I found the Humane Society with a booth, and dogs on leashes, looking for adoptive homes for their animals. Politicians, too, had booths to answer questions about their platforms and meet prospective voters.

Shoppers of all ages.
Humane Society introducing pets to prospective new owners.

Allowing beverage and food vendors is important, as well. The best markets I've seen, all had a coffee/beverage booth so shoppers could linger and visit over a cool drink. Food sampling at the bakery booth was allowed and the fruit vendors had little covered sampler displays where you could taste apples, peaches, etc. before deciding to buy the item.

Encouraging kids is just good business for any town. After all, they grow up to be your customers!
This enterprising young man had his own booth, selling his marshmallow guns.
Another important element was activities for kids. The best markets that I visited, in California, Michigan, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, all had something that made it fun for kids to come. Games, demonstrations, crafters who showed kids how to make something, all made for a total family environment that made it fun for everyone.

Vendors make it fun for people to shop with them.
Farmers markets are here to stay. Some towns and cities struggle to have a market. Memphis, TN, for example, has a small market given its population, while Fayetteville and Bentonville, AR both have large and thriving markets. Branson, MO, with 7 million tourists a year, struggles to have more than 3 or 4 vendors and each year the market is in a new location so it's almost impossible to find (even for us locals). Springfield, MO has 3 thriving markets and is about to build a permanent location for a market. Small towns across the Ozarks attempt to have markets but the ones that succeed, all have the backing of the city, the community and local businesses. It's exciting to see these markets as they grow and become permanent parts of their communities.
Mark Cain of Dripping Springs Farm near Huntsville, AR sells cut flowers.

Visit my website to see the books I've written on herbs and gardening. It's salsa-making time, you might enjoy my Sensational Salsas book this summer!


Tomatoes Stuffed with Marigolds

Robbins & Jim Hail with Susan Jones
I've written a couple of times about Bear Creek Farm near Osceola, MO and their grafted tomatoes. They - Robbins and Jim Hail, and now their son, Lonnie and wife Jenna, grow around eleven acres of vegetables for farmers market and Whole Foods stores. Susan, Robbins' sister, owns with her husband, Mike, Wild Goose Gardens Nursery and produce, with their son, Ethan, fresh cut flowers for the florist market in Kansas City. We've been to their gardens several times and it was a pleasure to get to show them around ours. They enjoy plants like I do, and we all appreciate good food. So we cooked and talked and cooked and ate! (In the photo, Susan is holding German statice to take home as a reminder to possibly grow some - florists love it and it's a hardy perennial and easy to grow).
Herb Shop and guesthouse.
Jim and Robbins stayed in the guesthouse (above, under the bell tower next to the Herb Shop) and Susan got the guest bedroom in the house. The guesthouse has the added advantage of a nightly chorus of frogs and whipporwills from the nearby woods.
Josh's sourdough bread.
I'd fixed BBQ ribs, potato salad, grilled portabello mushrooms and White Grape Salsa (recipe from my Salsas book). Bear Creek Farm sells the book at the farmers market, or you can order it from us). It's a salsa I concocted for people who don't like cilantro and uses fresh mint instead. Josh made a loaf of sourdough bread, using 2 thirds whole wheat flour to 1 third rye flour, it was excellent!
Firefly boy glowed after dark.
 The statue I've dubbed, "Firefly boy" because it looks like pictures of Josh when he was little, was lit for the first time. It's solar powered and at night a "firefly" glows in the jar the boy is holding. It was his birthday present 2 days ago, on the 6th. You can find him (firefly boy, not Josh) at Lowe's.
Large cherry tomatoes, stuffed.
I also made a batch of my favorite summer treat - stuffed tomatoes. It combines the flavors of lemon basil (or any basil will do) with French marigold petals, chopped pecans and cream cheese. People are always tentative when they first hear what's in these, but then gobble up several once they've tasted  the first one. Here's the recipe. You can easily make them look fancier than mine here.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Marigolds


12-16 medium-sized cherry tomatoes
4 of 5 French marigold flowers, any color (but not the large African marigolds which are bitter)
3 sprigs, about 4-5 inches long, any kind basil (I like lemon or Thai)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons toasted, chopped pecans (almonds or pine nuts will work, too)

Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the "innards" (I use a melon baller but a half-teaspoon measuring spoon works just as well. Discard the insides or use on a salad.

Using a paper towel, slightly dry the insides of the tomatoes and set aside so the cream cheese will stay in place.

Cut the bottom green part away on each marigold flower, allowing the petals to fall loosely, discarding the green portion. Put the petals on a cutting board and add the 3 sprigs of basil - leaves and small stems, too, cutting away only the larger main stem.

Using a chef's knife, chop the basil and marigold petals until chopped fine (or you can use an electric herb chopper if you wish, it's just faster for me to do it with a knife).

Mix the basil-marigold mixture and the chopped pecans into the cream cheese, mixing well. With a spoon or spatula, fill each tomato half. Garnish with marigold petals or basil leaves. I think you'll enjoy the combination of flavors, each complimenting the other.

Hopefully the Bear Creek Farm and Wild Goose Nursery folks will come for another visit and we'll have a reason to cook something else!
Susan became the pom-pom girl, playing with the German statice!