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New England Farmgirl: by Jessica Robinson


Book Review by Nancy Brannon

We devote quite a bit of space in this publication on equine nutrition and health issues. So it’s only fitting that we devote space to human/rider nutrition and health. Author and photographer Jessica Robinson travels the back roads of New England, scoping out interesting places to get fresh vegetables, orchard fruits, maple syrup, artisanal cheeses, and baked goods. It’s a virtual culinary road trip that includes recipes for how to prepare all the good food one can find locally. As I read it, I thought of many places around the mid-south where these items can be found and often found strong similarities to southern taste preferences.

Jessica grew up on a farm and recalls her parents being strong advocates of producing as much food as they could and buying the remainder from other local farms. She learned about gardening and the value of work on the farm. Her mom baked homemade breads each week, so, of course, there’s a whole chapter on artisanal breads. Jessica helped tap maple trees to collect the sap and learned how to make maple candies and other sweet delights. “Tapping the Source” is the chapter that explains how to tap a sugar maple tree  and recipes for maple French toast and maple peach barbeque sauce.

As an adult she carries these lessons to her own home, firmly believing that “naturally and organically produced foods are very important. Simple ingredients produced without preservatives or chemicals are ultimately better for you.” Her book passes along family recipes and takes the reader to places throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont where some of the freshest foods, quaint farmhouses, country stores, and beautiful farms can be found.

She begins with a general chapter on New England’s Bounty and then moves to specific types of foods. Each chapter provides a multi-page list of the places where the foods covered in the chapter can be found. If you do a little research, you will find that there are equivalent places throughout the mid-south. I encourage you to develop your own list of mid-south producers and farmers.

The first recipe in the book is for Pecan Pie, from her French-Canadian Grandma Lamothe. What could be more southern than that? Second is a recipe for iced tea and lemonade, or as southerners call it, sweet tea with lemon. “Growing up on a farm, this was a staple of summer refreshment for me.” I believe we can identify with that!

Everybody knows the south is renowned for Moon Pies and RC Cola. This book contains a recipe for Red Velvet Whoopie Pies, which are the equivalent of Moon Pies, only with red velvet cake rather than chocolate.

There’s a chapter on orchards – fruit production – and honey producers, including “everything you need to know about honey.” Did you know that bees account for 80% of all insect pollination? If not for the honeybee transferring pollen from one flower to another, many of our foods simply would not grow and develop.” (p. 32) As I read this chapter I thought of Jones Orchard in Millington, TN and their delicious peaches and apples. It also brought to mind the “local honey” (pun intended) and dulcimer player Lee Cagle of Moscow, TN who produces and sells local honey. Jessica has a recipe for bourbon-honey barbeque sauce (p. 114); another for barbeque fans.

There’s a chapter on eggs, cheeses, and dairy products. This chapter brought to mind our free range laying hens that my daughter raised when she was participating in the 4-H “chick chain” project. If you want a delicious breakfast, there’s nothing tastier than a freshly laid egg because free range eat a variety of foods – not just scratch grain – including insects. During the time we had hens in the yard, our dogs never had ticks.

Have you tried goat cheese salad with fresh strawberries? (p. 124) Fresh strawberries are available in May in the mid-south. Have you tried the milk from Rock Springs Dairy in Bradford, TN? Rock Springs Dairy products are available at E.W. James & Sons in Milan, Market Fresh in Jackson, Garden Spot in Lexington, Brewer's in Camden, Backermann's Bakery in Whiteville, and China Grove Country Store in Rutherford. Have you tried the Amish Country Butter available in rolls at Backermann’s Bakery in Whiteville, TN, and the Horn of Plenty Market in Maryville, TN, just down the road from Co-Op? I highly recommend it and bet that you’ll never buy supermarket butter again.

The Local Spirits chapter covers wineries and vineyards. I thought of the Old Millington Winery near Millington, TN and Cades Cove Cellars in Townsend, TN. The Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance website has mapped them. There are “wine trails” to travel, from the Smoky Mountains, to the Plateau, to Natchez Trace, Four Rivers, and West Tennessee:

There’s a chapter on gardening: Homegrown: Raising your own food. Many local feed stores have garden centers that provide herbs, bedding plants, vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamentals. Jessica includes tips on composting, mulching; what cool weather crops to plant and which crops require warm weather. Most of the vegetables she writes about will grow in the mid-south, with one exception – rhubarb. You’ll have to get that from the store.

Her next-to-last chapter covers Yankee Backyard Entertaining, which includes grilling, toasting marshmallows over the fire, and drinking out of “vintage drinking glasses.” Can you say, Mason Jars? She even includes a recipe for cornbread – how southern is that?

She concludes with a chapter on old-fashioned country stores. Public Television shows like Tennessee Crossroads and Southern Accents take viewers to a variety of places like this all over the south.

I invite you to research and explore your local farmers’ markets, orchards, and try the delicious tastes these places have to offer. Some farmers’ markets offer live music. Edible Memphis has a list of area farmers markets: Harvest  lists farmers markets in throughout the south and Pick Tennessee Products lists places throughout Tennessee where fresh produce is available. There are farms, like Falcon Ridge Farm in Toone, TN, that have CSAs (community supported agriculture), where you can order fresh produce all season. Taproot Farm in Franklin, TN offers CSA memberships for all-natural, grass fed beef, Blair’s Bird Barn Chicken and Bartholomew Family Farm Pork. Subscriptions are available at Local Harvest, too. And if you travel to New England, your itinerary is already prepared in New England Farmgirl.

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