Birney Imes: Market conversations

September 26, 2009 9:47:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Saturday morning Gordon Parker leaned against a battered blue pickup truck loaded with Vardaman sweet potatoes. Parker, a truck farmer who lives in Hamilton, grows peas, tomatoes, okra, corn, butter beans and two types of pole beans, Louisiana purple pod and rattlesnake, which he sells at the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market. 


Most of those crops have come and gone, and on this dimly lit morning Parker is hawking the potatoes, scuppernongs and a variety of salsas he concocts using jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and onions. There''s a hot and an extra hot and a super hot he keeps on the truck out of reach of the public. 


Deloris Johnson stops to price a basket of sweet potatoes. Johnson, a friendly woman with a quick smile, says she bakes the potatoes, but likes them best prepared like french fries. 


"I have ''em for breakfast," she says. "Put brown sugar on them and sit on that front porch with a cup of coffee." 


Steve Garner, a potter who sells his wares at the market, buys a couple jars of Parker''s hot salsa. A hot sauce and salsa aficionado, Garner says he and his wife, Beverly, choose their Mexican restaurants by the quality of their salsa. We agreed there''s little to distinguish local salsa offerings. Simply adding fresh cilantro and lime to what they''re presently serving would move any one of these restaurantes to the head of the pack. 


"You''re stopping for these school buses, aren''t you?" It''s Jean Taylor, a bus driver for the city schools. I''m sitting on the tailgate of Jimmy Craddieth''s pickup. Craddieth''s been selling produce at the farmers'' market for 15 or 20 years, "since this thing opened." A year or so ago Taylor wrote a letter to this newspaper complaining of motorists not stopping for school buses. A day later driving down Military, my mind in the clouds, I passed Taylor''s stopped bus. I came back to earth just as I was doing it, horrified and staring at Taylor''s reproachful glare. 


"Four or five cars pass me every day on 69 out by Airline," said Taylor, who has been driving a bus since 2000. "It''s (motorists passing a stopped school bus) all over town," she says, adding that the wait for a stopped bus is only 30 seconds. 


Market regulars Scott and Lydia Enlow were in high spirits Saturday morning. The proprietors of Black Creek Organic Farms said they sold 30 dozen eggs on Friday. Like most vendors this time of year, the Enlows'' offerings are few, radishes and purple okra selling for $3 a pound. It really is purple; red velvet okra, they call it. A week earlier I eavesdropped as Lydia explained to Karen and Rufus Ward how she cooks it on a grill.  


"I wash it and pat it dry. Put the okra (whole) in a plastic bag with oil and shake. Add Creole seasoning and grill." 


Rufus said the library had just received from California four large wooden crates containing over 50 drawings and four oil paintings from Phil Meador. Phil''s father was the late Josh Meador, the Disney animator and special-effects artist who grew up in Columbus. Rufus is one of the organizers of a celebration of Meador''s life next month. 


Contained within that cache of Meador treasures is an oil painting Meador painted of his boss'' ranch house, Smoke Tree Ranch. After Disney died, the family returned the painting to the Meador family. The painting will be raffled off locally to raise money to preserve a one-car garage on northside in which Meador painted a mountain scene on the wall in 1929. 


On that same Saturday first time market vendors Jason Pool and 7-year-old son Davis were trying to rid themselves of some hot peppers.  


"My wife Allison said not to bring these home," Jason said of his colorful array. "She''s tired of seeing them sitting on the counter." 


Young Davis reeled off their offerings: "Ichabod eggplant, tabasco, habanero, hot bananas, sweet banana and jalapeno peppers." 


Here''s an Internet remedy to a hot pepper overdose: Drink tomato juice or eat a fresh lemon or lime, the theory being that the acid counteracts the alkalinity of the capsaicin (the ingredient in peppers responsible for the hot). Dairy products are a good antidote to overheating. Capsaicin dissolves easily in the fats found in dairy products. 


Jason, a forester by day, lives in New Hope but tends a garden in Steens with his mother. With their garden bounty, the Pools make salsa, pepper sauce and dill pickles for family and friends. 


The market runs through October. Now that the tomatoes are gone -- Phil Lancaster had a box of green ones Saturday -- so are the crowds. It''s a low-key affair now. There will be greens, pumpkins, squash and a smattering of craftsmen like George Dyson and son who were there Saturday with their handmade kitchen utensils and flutes made from river cane (George Jr.). George Sr. was not wearing his trademark "I (heart) bikinis" baseball cap. I meant to ask him why. 


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.