Howdy! Welcome to the first ever virtual Cook’s Country Fair. With a cornucopia of agriculture-themed posts and down-home cooking competitions, for 12 weeks we’ll pay homage to our rural roots and those who taught us to enjoy good, simple food. We’ve got our summer jam-packed with fun stories, blue-ribbon winning recipes, and exciting giveaways. Each week we’ll be asking you, our fans, to share your personal stories in our comments, and we’ll pick a new story each week to be our winner. We hope you’ll join us for the festivities every Thursday afternoon from June to September!
Unlike most young eaters, I was a fan of vegetables since the day my two front teeth grew in. Fresh, crunchy greens, root vegetables still dirty from the ground, and whole onions were my favorite. Growing up, my family lived in a little town in East Texas on an small plot of land. A bramble of Brazos blackberry bushes divided the space between our backyard and the neighbor’s, Mr. McGregor. Over the years our neighbor, who I nicknamed McGregor, had converted his backyard into neat rows and tidy beds for growing vegetables. He often shared his produce with all of the neighbors, and when I was old enough to wander off on my own, I headed straight for the rows of purple cabbage. I would plop down between the furrows and peel off a deep-hued leaf, nibbling away like a rabbit. I’m sure McGregor could see me from his kitchen window. But instead of shooing me off like Peter Rabbit, he would cut off an entire head of cabbage and tuck it into my arms, directing me home. In exchange for helping him pull weeds or dust off dirty cabbages, he’d send me back home with other prizes from his garden—maybe a bucketful of carrots, bouquets of lettuces, or even heavy sacks of tomatoes. I would lug my earnings back to the house and proudly present them to my family. My parents used to say that they’d often find me sitting on the porch swing with a head of broccoli in my lap, or eating a yellow onion like an apple.
When he wasn’t acting as a green grocer for the entire neighborhood, Mr. McGregor would enter his vegetables into local horticulture competitions, like the one held at the annual county fair. Every summer, dozens of entrants—from old-time gardeners to 4-H club members—brought the best of their crop to the horticultural show with high hopes for blue ribbons. Categories varied from ordinary garden vegetables to oddly shaped produce and squashes so large they required a pickup truck to move. Each entry was judged on quality, uniformity (or uniqueness if in the “oddly shaped” category), condition, and how well the entrant presented his or her produce. Entries that won Best-In-Show were pinned with the largest blue ribbon and were often auctioned off at the end of the fair. The rest of the produce, ribbon or not, was taken home and enjoyed in countless vegetable stews, roasts, salads, and slaws.
As a fellow 4-H kid, I relished the annual horticultural shows at our local county fair. After I was done showing my livestock or doing pee-wee barrel racing with my horse, Cherokee, I would make my way over to the judges’ tent and see which color ribbon my friends had won. I, too, considered flexing my green thumb and entering vegetables into the local horticultural show. But, if my rabbit-like habits in Mr. McGregor’s garden are any indication, I don’t think the produce would make it very far from the garden plot.
Before you run to your local farmers’ market or grocery store, read over our Getting to Know vegetable guides, and you’ll be ready to snack on nature’s candy—all year long.
HOW THE COOK’S COUNTRY FAIR WORKS
Every Thursday this summer, we’ll post a new story on the Feed. Inspired by each of the Getting to Know guides above, we harvested several of our favorite garden-grown recipes like Fiesta Slaw, Summer Crunch Salad, All-American Cherry Tomato Salad, and Garlicky Broccolini.
MAKE IT NOW
SHOW AND TELL
HOW TO WIN THIS WEEK’S GIVEAWAY
We’re giving away a copy of The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook! Want to win? Leave a comment below telling us your fondest gardening memory or your favorite type of summer produce. Entries due Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 11:59pm EST. Giveaway for continental US residents only.
LAST WEEK’S WINNER
Congratulations to Laura who shared a comment about seasonal ice cream flavors—like pumpkin for fall—and won a copy of Cook’s Country Blue Ribbon Desserts! Thank you to all who shared their stories on ice cream; read them all here.