Sure, you can buy your holiday produce from the big-box grocery store, but it is undeniable that there is something special about the experience of eating locally grown food. “What we love most about local farming is there’s just something about eating freshly harvested produce that was grown in local soils!” exclaimed Melissa Lovely, owner of Lovely Farms LLC in Hardeeville, along with her husband Shane. “There’s just no other taste like it. There were certain vegetables that my husband never cared to eat until we started growing them ourselves.”
Melissa and Shane began growing produce on their one-acre property back in 2015, forming Lovely Farms LLC in February of 2019 after discovering that their compact gardens produced a high yield of herbs, spices and vegetables. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down their plans to sell to local restaurants and at farmers markets, now that things are opening up again, the couple is eager to share their bounty with the local community. “We hope to be at the Town of Ridgeland Farmers Market, which is open Fridays 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m., located at 7753 W. Main Street in Ridgeland,” Melissa said.
The Lovelys expect their harvest from late October through December. “Some of the produce will include collards, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, and carrots as well as fresh herbs including sage, oregano, basil, parsley, chives, rosemary,” Melissa said.
Mary Connor, one of the three sisters who own the historical Three Sisters Farm situated in the Pinckney Colony of Bluffton, with produce available for pick-up at the weekly Port Royal Farmers Market, agrees that locals should think about greens, like kale and collards, when making a locally inspired holiday meal plan. A few of Connor’s favorite family recipes include casseroles featuring greens that travel well for visits with loved ones around the holidays. “My family is pretty disappointed if they don’t get traditionally prepared greens,” she said. “[Use] smoked ham bone or smoked turkey wings cooked down with plenty of lightly-browned onions to make a rich broth (water added for liquid). Season with salt and pepper—some cooks add a little brown sugar. Add the washed greens with stems removed and cook until just tender. Nice, fresh greens don’t take long. Mustard and collards are preferred, but kale is okay.”
“Pan fried greens make an excellent side dish to any holiday meal, especially a ham,” Melissa Lovely added. “My grandma always made a whole bone-in ham at Christmas.” Bourbon-glazed carrots, slow-cooked pork roast with potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage and slow-simmered cabbage with thin-sliced onions, potatoes and ham steak are other ideas for ways to incorporate locally grown produce as you feed family and friends this time of year.
“We’ll also be harvesting sweet potatoes,” Connor said. Sweet potatoes make an excellent side dish at a holiday gathering because “grown-ups and kids like them!” Connor suggests roasting them “French-fry style” to please even the pickiest of eaters at your table. And let’s be honest, “sometimes husbands are the pickiest!”
Another way to showcase local sweet potatoes on your family table is by serving a traditionally Southern sweet potato pie for dessert (instead of a pumpkin pie). “Just substitute mashed sweet potatoes for pumpkin,” Connor said. “If you roast the sweet potatoes, they will be sweeter. Don’t peel them if roasting or steaming. Peel the skin off after they are cooked and cooled,” she suggested.
Collards and casseroles, pies and fries—local produce is like paint on an artist’s brush when it comes to creatively expressing the many tastes of the Lowcountry. Whether you are getting inspired with fresh herbs in preparing that family-favorite dressing recipe, crafting a delicate salad filled with local greens to balance out the heavy indulgences of holiday eating or simply replacing your casserole’s store-bought veggies with farmers market fresh produce to elevate a time-honored tradition, eating local can quickly become the heart of your holiday table.
Melissa Lovely’s Pan-Fried Greens
The recipe works well with most any green leafy vegetable including collards, cabbage, kale, and spinach. Depending on which green you use, the cooking times will vary.
For spinach and kale
1 large bunch greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse greens thoroughly to remove any dirt or sand. They can be soaked in water as well to remove any debris between the leaves. Pat dry. Chop or tear the kale into pieces. Spinach can be left whole. Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Add minced garlic to hot oil, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the kale or spinach to the pan. For kale, cook about 2 minutes until wilted but slightly crisp, continuing to stir while cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. For spinach, cook for 45 seconds to a minute until wilted, constantly stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For cabbage and collards
1 head of green cabbage or 1 large bunch of collards
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in squares
1 cup chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste.
Cut the cabbage head into chunk size pieces and rinse thoroughly with water. For the collards, rinse well with water and cut the leaves on either side to remove the stems and chop into pieces. Sauté bacon in a pan over medium heat until about 3/4 of the way cooked. Add minced garlic to bacon pieces. Stir until the garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add the greens and the cup of chicken stock. (Apple juice or apple cider vinegar can also be used.) Cover the pan and continue cooking on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook for 30-45 minutes until tender. Collards usually take a little longer than cabbage. More stock can be added if the greens become too dry before they are finished cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: I rarely add any salt to the collards because they seem to have a salty flavor naturally. Test them before adding too much. Also, a low sodium stock can be used.
Melissa Lovely’s Bourbon Glazed Carrots
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 pounds Danvers carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup bourbon, any kind or your favorite
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt half of the stick of butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add half the carrots to the pan, stirring them frequently until they are brown, about 1 minute. Remove them from pan and repeat the same process with the remaining carrots. Pour the bourbon in the pan, being careful if using an open flame. Cook for about 4 minutes, allowing it to bubble and reduce slightly. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the other half stick of butter, stirring until melted. Stir in the brown sugar. Add the carrots, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until carrots are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer carrots to a serving platter and enjoy!
Mary Connor’s Warm Leafy-Greens Dip
Any of the leafy greens or combination of greens from Three Sisters Farm will work for this recipe. The stems should be removed before blanching. The stems can be sent to the compost pile, but better to chop and sauté and added to the dip. If you have children or “picky” eaters, eating this, you may want to leave out the peppers or use sweet peppers.
1 cup half and half
8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
1 12-oz. bunch of greens, stems removed, blanched, squeezed to remove water, chopped. (up to one pound can be used, depending on your “greens” meter.
Jalapeño pepper, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced or squeezed through press
Finely diced onions, sautéed in olive oil to make 3 tablespoons
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese or asiago cheese, shredded or grated
1 small can water chestnuts, drained and chopped (about 1/4 cup) or use radishes as a substitute
1/2 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s preferred, of course!)
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste. The cheese is salty, so probably no salt is needed, but check for taste and adjust.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and transfer to shallow baking dish or glass pie plate. (Remember that you will probably be serving in the baking dish, so choose appropriately for presentation.) Bake about 30 minutes or until slightly browned and bubbling. Cool to a warm temperature. Serve with toast points, pita chips, or any hefty crackers like ritz or tortilla chips. This dip is also good served cold but may need to be thinned with a little cream if doing so.