Cooking in the warmer months means using farm fresh local for summer side dishes. In Essex County, we are so lucky with our selection of locally sourced veggies and fruits that fill the role of the perfect farm fresh local summer side.
One of the growing area’s in Canada, Essex County isn’t only home to wineries, our agriculture neighbours also specialize in fruits and vegetables that make for delicious and healthy sides for all of our summer cooking.
We asked our good friends and neighbours down the road at Lee and Maria’s to share what’s in season and how to shop it for freshness during these dog days of summer. We then found our favourite recipes and our team offered the perfect wine pairings.
Side note – Our team all confirmed that yes, these perfect farm fresh local summer side. have often been their main dishes on a hot summer’s day.
People often rip open their corn to check if it’s the perfect cob. Stop! There’s no need to break nature’s freshness seal just to check out what’s inside. Clues as to how old the corn you’re buying is begins at the bottom of the cob, where it’s connected to the stalk. The more dried out this area is, the older the corn. You also want to avoid corn with silk at the top that looks really dried out. Last, feel the cob’s tip to make sure it feels like it’s full of kernels all the way to the top. If these three things are in check, you’ve got a winner.
Also, don’t be scared to try corn raw. It’s our favourite way to eat it at the farm!
Pair with: LOLA Chardonnay VQA
Essex County is known for tomatoes and for a good reason. The combination of sandy soils and ample sunlight make for ideal growing conditions for all types of tomatoes. Don’t get too hung up on shape and don’t just pick the most gigantic tomato you find. A smaller tomato will often have more sweetness inside, where a larger one may taste a little watered down. Heirloom varieties of all different shapes and sizes are trendy these days but it’s an old fashioned bright red beefsteak that we slice for our BLTs.
Pair with: Lighthouse Sauvignon Blanc VQA
Green, red, yellow…. it’s a rainbow!
When gardeners come to our farm early in the summer looking for plants, we always get a good chuckle when they ask for a green pepper plant. Green peppers are just peppers that were picked before they had a chance to change colour on the vine. They tend to be a bit sour since the plant didn’t have time to create the amount of sugar you will find in brightly coloured peppers.
Like corn, telling a pepper’s freshness is all about inspecting the stem and where it’s connected with the plant. The drier the stem, the older the pepper. If you’re making stuffed peppers, don’t just pick the most immense pepper you can find. You will need some strength in the pepper walls to keep its shape in the oven. Sometimes smaller is better.
Pair with: LOLA Merlot VQA
Comes in both red and yellow seedless. You can knock all day long but no one is going to answer to tell you if that watermelon is fresh. Knowing if a watermelon is ripe isn’t about playing the watermelon bongos, it’s about the fruit’s look and weight.
In your local market, look for vibrant green skin but don’t get too hung up on a lighter spot. That’s just where the melon rested on the ground. You want a heavy melon for its size. It’s telling you it’s dense inside and likely won’t have a split or open cavity. Finally, you are looking for little scars on the skin that look like fine lines. While it may not look perfect, those lines are courtesy of honeybees that scared the watermelon flower during pollination. More scars = more pollen = more sugar = more smiles.
Fun fact alert!!! When we plant seedless watermelon plants, we also have to plant seeded watermelons close by. Seedless watermelons are a sterile plant, so they need the pollinator seeded melons close by to pollenate them. If you’re having a hard time finding seeded melons in your supermarket, head to your local farmers market!
Pair with: Bella Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé VQA
Zucchini and Summer Squash
We admit it. We often cringe when people tell us that our zucchinis are enormous. You may think it’s a good thing but to us, it means we forgot to take a walk through the patch one day and they grew too fast.
Zucchini and their cousin summer squash, sometimes called yellow zucchini, are delicious grilled, sautéed, baked, pickled, added to muffins and bread to name a few prep methods.
Picking a good zucchini is all about knowing what you’re going to do with it and buying the best size for your purpose. Larger ones will have less taste and more seeds. If you grow them, they will continue to produce as long as the plant stays alive. The more you pick, the smaller fruit and the more zucchini the plant will create. If you want to keep the plant producing but need a break from the squash, pick the flowers and try them breaded and fried. This keeps your plant healthy and it’s a delicious summer treat.
Pair with: Pinot Noir VQA
“When you buy from a roadside market, stand, or farmers market, you aren’t just buying a piece of fruit. You are buying the family that owns the farm, the men and women working in the field, and the generations of knowledge they’ve accumulated. A purchase from a farmer is a contract. It’s an exchange of money for the trust that the farmer is feeding your family the safest and freshest fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs possible.”
There you have it friends. Now get out there and enjoy the drive or bike ride to your local farm stand. Create your own farm fresh local summer sides and bon appétit!
About Lee & Maria’s
The story of Lee & Maria’s began in late 1978 when the young couple purchased an aging farmhouse and barn. Like most farmers in Essex County, they began growing tomatoes for Heinz ketchup. However, after a few years, they decided to make the leap to launching a small roadside stand and growing over 20 different crops. It’s a practice that continues at Lee and Maria’s today.
The young couple eventually had three children: Kathy, Mike, and Jenn. The three would help out on the farm growing up. Helping out sometimes included rotten tomato fights and eating dirty onions straight from the field, but they also picked beans, tomatoes, and helped hoe weeds.
After years of selling at the roadside market on Seacliff Dr. and farm markets across the region, Lee and Maria’s Delivery was born. The service was the first in the region to take produce from local farms, including our own, and deliver it directly to the homes of people across Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent. The service began small with one day of deliveries, some late nights, and 70 great families. Now, over 600 members enjoy local produce weekly.
After over 35-years, Lee and Maria decided to step back from the day to day operations. Kathy, Mike, Jenn and their families have now stepped in to operate the family farm.
Pssttt… Don’t forget while you’re here to sign up for our Birthday Club and receive a $20 Gift Voucher for your Birthday!