I grew up not only eating my vegetables but loving them.
My father and his brothers owned a Chicago seed company, and he’d often bring home produce from the farm where they tested new varieties. My mother, who had majored in home economics at Cornell, scorned the canned vegetables so popular in many 1950s households and cooked the fresh ones like today’s trendy chefs—briefly, just until they were tender and still bursting with flavor.
We lived in a brand-new suburb perched on the edge of an Illinois prairie, and I’d spend hours roaming through the tall grass, sometimes making a nest for myself in a sunny spot and dreaming away the afternoon. Once Dad gave me some kernels from a new breed of corn, and I took them out to the fields and scattered them around. Months later, I came upon the full-grown plants, the tall stalks waving in the summer breeze and crowned with fat ears wrapped in silver silk and soft green husks. A skinny little girl in pigtails and braces, I stared at them with something akin to religious awe. How could something so grand and glorious have exploded from a withered kernel?
That moment set me on a lifetime path. Today, our tiny yard is crowded with fruit trees and stacks of Earthboxes spilling over with celery, fennel, herbs, peppers and more. And it also helped inspire the theme of this Food & Wine annual—The Fresh Issue.
In our centerpiece story, Su Byron (who has won two first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association for her "10 Best" series for us) and Marty Fugate report on the many markets and specialty growers that are feeding the region’s hunger for home-grown food. They visited farmers’ markets large and small, interviewing purveyors and swapping recipes with customers. Su, a vegetarian and gourmet cook, jokes that she may have spent more on the story than she earned, bringing home bag after bag full of produce, honey, cheese and fresh-baked bread. The two also discovered an array of small growers, many of them as passionate about living simply and close to the earth as they are about their products, from heirloom tomatoes to award-winning Florida wine.
We also highlight some fruits of the sea. Last year’s oil spill shone a national spotlight on Gulf seafood, and now, all over the country, chefs are featuring it on their menus and marketers are promoting it in special events and campaigns. But nobody knows how to prepare it better than our own Sarasota chefs.
We asked some of the best for their favorite Gulf seafood recipes, which range from down-home and delicious to elegantly uptown.
There’s lots more to savor in this issue, but before you start sampling, let me share one more fresh and healthy discovery. I usually start a diet as soon as we send the Food & Wine issue to the printer, but this year I didn’t gain a pound. The reason? I’m convinced it’s the West Indian ginger tea that my boyfriend, George, who’s from St. Lucia, has started brewing every night after dinner. It’s strong, sharp and soothing, all at the same time, and the minute I taste it, I don’t want to eat another bite—or drink another glass of wine. Even my skeptical friend, Tori, who loves to sip cabernet and read until late in the evening, became a convert when she visited recently. Here’s the recipe: Take a chunk of unpeeled ginger—an inch or so. Lightly pound it with a mallet once or twice. Add water and zap in the microwave until hot. Pure, simple, and in its own small way, as miraculous as those long-ago corn plants on the prairie.