May 15, 2013 10:40:19 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Sprinkled with sugar, dipped in chocolate, topping a cake or just plucked from the plant, strawberries are one of Mother Nature's sweetest gifts, and Chef Ty Thames knows it. He's the driving force behind the innovative, upscale Restaurant Tyler (as well as several other popular Starkville eateries) and one of the area food service industry's staunch proponents of buying local. He'd be the first to say get thee to a farmers' market before the fresh strawberries are gone.
When the Starkville Community Market opened May 4, Thames kicked off a summer-long series of weekly cooking and gardening demonstrations by showing how to make his strawberry and basil yogurt spread.
"The recipe is very, very easy; it took me about five minutes to make," said Thames, who used Mayhew Tomato Farm strawberries, Duke Pecan Co. pecans, plus local honey and basil to whip up the sweet, creamy spread that's perfect on homemade bread (also available at the market) for breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea or snacks. It's a good companion for French toast, too.
The chef has made the most of the recent booming berry season, using strawberries in salads, vinaigrettes and other dishes.
Advocates like Thames contend that buying locally-grown produce and products pays off in more ways than one. The community, in general, eats fresher and healthier, and growers get the support they need to keep planting and bringing more and more variety to consumers.
"Farmers' markets are such a keystone to a community," said Thames, who serves on the Starkville Community Market board. They are a great means of keeping everything local, he said. And "local" is at the foundation of how he runs his restaurants.
Get 'em now
Unfortunately, the Golden Triangle's strawberry season will soon end.
"We'll have fresh berries at the markets this Saturday, and maybe next Saturday; we'll pick as long as we can," said Melvin Ellis of Mayhew Tomato Farm, where peak season is mid-April to around mid-May, depending on temperatures. (Strawberries don't like heat.) The Ellis family sells at the Starkville Market, Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmers' Market and West Point's Farmers' Market.
The beauty of shopping a local market, though, is that almost every week brings something new to the table. Within days, for example, the Ellises will be picking squash and digging potatoes.
"Each season is so very different, with the timing of fruits and vegetables," Thames remarked. "As the weeks go on, more and more produce will be available."
Passing it on
On summer Saturdays, Starkville Community Market will host a variety of culinary and gardening demos, with tips on cooking with local ingredients from experts like Chef Jay Yates of The Veranda, Chef Paul Brasfield of Bin 612 and Chef John Fitzgerald of Restaurant Tyler. As a board member, Thames is coordinating the series and welcomes others who want to share what they know.
"If there's someone in the community who believes in using local products and wants to do a demonstration, they can get in touch with me," he said. "We'd love to have as many people as possible involved because this is a community thing." Contact Thames at [email protected]
Be the early bird Saturday morning and pick up some local berries to use in today's quick-fix recipes. From Chef Ty's spread to fruit-swirled quick bread and buttery biscuit-like strawberry shortcakes drizzled with orange liqueur, these treats are made special by plump locally-grown, fragrant strawberries.
(Editor's note: The Starkville Community Market at the corner of Lampkin and Jackson Streets is open Saturdays 7:30-10:30 a.m. Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmers' Market at Second Street and Second Avenue North is open Mondays 4-6 p.m. and Thursdays and Saturdays 7-10 a.m. Beginning May 16, the West Point Farmers' Market at the Mossy Oak Pavilion will be open Thursdays 4-7 p.m.)
STRAWBERRY & BASIL YOGURT SPREAD
1 cup yogurt
2 cups strawberries (diced)
1 cup pecans (chopped)
1 oz honey
1 tablespoon basil (chopped)
(Source: Chef Ty Thames of Starkville)
1 1/2 pounds (about 6 cups) fresh strawberries
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for dusting
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, quartered, and mashed with a fork
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.