Squash Blossoms From Jolley Farms To My Table!
Jolley Farms is located in Canton, North Carolina (Haywood County). This five-acre farm has been in its new operation for approximately one and a half years and already has a great reputation in the Western North Carolina area for producing specialty produce and offering very personal service.
Jolley farms got its start in somewhat of an unusual way. Zeb went to an old friend and chef, Denny Trantham, and asked what he could grow for him that he could not find anywhere else (especially in the middle of winter – remember he had the equipment to grow flowers year round). This was reverse of what usually happens when a farmer shows up at the back door of a restaurant. Typically, in the spring and summer, the farmer shows up with a truckload of produce he hopes the chef has a need for.
Chef Trantham (the Executive Chef of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina) told Zeb that if he could grow some of the micro greens that he was ordering from Ohio, that he would give him the business locally. He also introduced him to other chefs who might be interested in his products.
In addition to the beautiful micro greens, Zeb began planting all sorts of Heirloom tomatoes and unusual squashes. He also grows those beautiful edible flowers. Through his networking and former relationships from selling flowers and plants, he is building a real niche business.
Zeb showed us around the farm pointing out all the types of produce he is growing. We also were able to get very pretty shots of his farm and produce (you knew we were going to do that).
Zeb continues to try all sorts of new varieties of micro greens, squashes and Heirloom tomatoes, so you never know what might be growing there next year.
Jolley Farms is certified by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. “ASAP helps create and expand local food markets that will preserve our agricultural heritage, give everyone access to fresh, healthy food, and keep our farmers farming. Our mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food.”
As Zeb says, we have to be realistic that we cannot grow everything here, but he is certainly trying to grow what he can and sell it “locally”, which is defined as within 100 miles.
What I find impressive is that Zeb is able to grow some of his produce almost through the entire winter by growing it in low tunnels. He said that even with several feet of snow between the tunnels last year (it was the worst winter in 10 years in the area), he still had lettuces and micro greens growing that he was able to offer his customers. That is really amazing.
He will also have pumpkins, squash (Delicata and Hubbard) and winter greens coming up this fall. Those are some of my favorites, so I can’t wait to see them (and some cooler temps) in the farmers market this fall.
I would like to thank Zeb for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to show us around his farm. (He works with just two other people that help him cut, wash, pack and deliver all of this wonderful produce, so he is a very busy guy.) His family’s story is truly inspiring and his produce is delightful.
Large corporate farming has displaced many of our small family farms. It is difficult for a smaller farmer to stay in business with the way food is manufactured and delivered today. However, it is these small family farms that produce the quality and freshness in our produce that we are looking for. Now that there is a revival of small farms, especially in the Western North Carolina area, I am trying to support them as much as possible. I hope you will do the same wherever you are.
From Zeb’s farm to my table, here is a recipe for Stuffed Squash Blossoms (oh, they are soooo good!). These are adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe. The recipe for this batter is a
calorie killer keeper!
If you are interested in reading more about eating locally and the Farm to Table movement, here are some books I recommend. They are available through Amazon.com.
Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms
12 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Finely grated, or a pinch of ground nutmeg
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 1/2 cups white wine or sparkling water (I used sparkling water and drank the wine!)
12 squash blossoms
Small piece of potato, peeled (optional)
2 lemons, halved
Mix together the ricotta in a bowl with the egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg and lemon zest. Season to taste.
To make a lovely light batter, put the flour into a mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt. Pour in the sparkling water and whisk until thick and smooth. At this point the consistency of the batter should be like heavy cream or, if you dip your finger in, it should stick to your finger and nicely coat it. If it’s too thin, add a bit more flour; if it’s too thick, add a little more sparkling water.
Open the squash blossoms gently and snip off the pointed stamen inside because it tastes bitter. Give the flowers a gentle rinse if you like.
Spoon the ricotta into the corner of a plastic sandwich or Ziploc bag. Snip 1/2 inch off the corner and use this as a makeshift piping bag to gently squeeze the filling into each flower, until just full. Carefully press the flowers back together around the mixture to seal it in. Then put the flowers to one side. (Any leftover ricotta can be smeared on hot crostini as a snack.)
Now for the deep-frying: Have tongs or a spider ready for lifting the flowers out of the oil, and a plate with a double layer of paper towels on it for draining. Pour the oil into a deep-fat fryer or deep saucepan so it’s about 2 inches deep. Heat it up to 350F or, if using a saucepan, put in your piece of potato. As soon as the potato turns golden, floats to the surface and starts to sizzle, the oil is just about the right temperature. Remove the potato from the pan.
One by one, dip the ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms into the batter, making sure they’re completely covered, and gently let any excess drip off. Carefully release them, away from you, into the hot oil. Quickly batter another one or two blossoms and add them to the pan, but don’t crowd the pan too much or they’ll stick together. Fry until golden and crisp all over, then lift them out of the oil and drain on the paper towels. Remove to a plate or board. Serve with half a lemon to squeeze over.