Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Winter Park Farmers' Market, Florida: Raw-Milk Cheese And More

Florida raw-milk cheese can be hard to find. But at the Winter Park Farmers' Market in Orlando, you can purchase it for $18 a pound. 

When I got to the market, this past Saturday, after finding one of the few free parking spots, I saw a colorful sea of merchants and people. There were actual farmers at this market, mixed in with so much more, like jam makers, and honey merchants.

My first stop was at the Winter Park Dairy booth to taste cheese. David Green, the cheese maker and owner of Winter Park Dairy, said his cheese is aged 60 days and he uses vegetarian rennet, instead of animal rennet. This means the aroma doesn't have the usual animal muskiness quality found in many other raw-milk cheeses. I bought a wedge of parmesan and a wedge of blue cheese.

My next was Ginger's Jams, Jellies And Such booth at the back of the market on the Street. Virginia Hartley makes her products using local Florida ingredients when possible. She sells to Winter Park Dairy and other area businesses. Hartley is a self-taught jam and jelly maker, she learned by trial and error, and has loved every step. She makes wonderfully unusual flavors like Lavender jelly ($4), Ginger jelly ($6), and Banana Strawberry jam ($6). I bought a jar of each bringing the cost down one dollar.

Of the farmers, I stopped at Lake Meadow Naturals, a Central Florida located farm. They were selling eggs for $4 to $7 a dozen, along with natural meats from their farm.

I also got to chat to Roger of Waterkist Farm, a hydroponic farm based in Sanford, Florida. They are a small 13,000 square foot under-roof farm that grows vegetables and micro-greens. They sell to Orlando area hotels like the Waldorf Astoria and Peabody Orlando Hotel.

The sweetest place I visited was the Winter Park Honey booth. Jean, the bee keeper, was as sweet as her honey. As she talked of the wonderful medicinal benefits of eating raw, unfiltered-honey, from allergy to arthritis relief, she handed me samples of of honey. When I bought a one pound jar of Lavender ($12) and Meadowfoam ($15) honey, Jean included a free sample jar of Flu-Bee-Gone and Meadow Mint honey. She said, "We give free samples out to introduce the new varieties to our customers."

The Winter Park Farmers Market is located at 200 West New England Avenue in Winter Park (near Orlando) every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Monstera deliciosa experience, South Florida style

I was first introduced to this plant when I lived in Maroochydore, Australia. Everyone in the neighborhood had a plant, they grew like weeds. And when the fruit was ready, all rejoiced because it took a year to ripen on the plant. The fruit looked like a large, scaly, cucumber.

The scales were actually rigid tiles that fell-off in sections as the fruit ripened. The flesh inside was creamy white and had the texture of bananas. I used a fork to pry the individual sections out. It tasted like a cross between pineapple and banana. It was delicious.

I learned patience when waiting for the tiles to drop. I forced a few off  and ate the sections underneath. They burned my tongue and throat. I later learned they contained potassium oxalate.

When I came to South Florida, I was shocked to find no Monstera deliciosa (fruit salad plant), well at least none in people's backyards. I found plenty at botanic gardens but the caretakers didn't like the idea of my taking a fruit home as a souvenir.

Eventually, I found my way to a rare fruit council meeting where the door prize was a Monstera deliciosa. I won it! I was thrilled but had a dilemma, I lived in an apartment with no backyard. So, my beautiful Monstera had to stay in a pot until I moved into a house. In protest, it grew no more than a few centimeters a year and refused to fruit.

Now, it lives in a large backyard and has leaves taller than me. And it bears many fruit!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Red Limes, Atala Butterflies and More in South Florida

Limes come in all hues and in south Florida they are red. At least in Jim Wiggins backyard.  At just one and a half acres large, Wiggins yard puts many botanical gardens to shame. "The red limes were imported into Florida by a chef at the Breakers Hotel," Wiggins says.

Red Limes, hybrid cross of Rangpur and Australian red finger

These are just one of the many fascinating points in his yard. One part, his wife Colleen's side, is an enclosed secret garden, and was once a hatchery for the Florida native Atala butterfly.

Atala Butterfly a true Florida native

On the other side of the yard is his tropical plant nursery. There is even a back pond filled with walking catfish. A Florida native and ten year resident of the Acreage, Wiggins enjoys plants so much he has even written about them for The Observer newspaper.

He is also an author of 12 books. And co-wrote one with his wife called Gardening for The Soul about using gardening to help recover from the loss of a child due to cancer.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's Jackfruit Season in South Florida

Jackfruits are back! 
The first time I tried jackfruit was in Bangkok, Thailand. I fell in love with the sweet pale yellow segments that tasted like a mix of rose water and well, jackfruit.

When it comes to purchasing whole fruit I have been very unlucky. The flesh is either unripe and tasteless or rotten and at $2-$3/pound for a 20 pound or more fruit, that can get expensive.

Last weekend, I visited the South Miami Farmers market in Coral Gables and saw several jackfruit for sale. I hesitated because I didn't the expected $60 available to purchase one. I lucked out and found a ripe jackfruit of approx 15 pounds selling for $20! I could afford that type of mistake.

I got it home, took out a large knife and coated it in oil as the seller had told me to do. The fruit had just been picked that morning and was full of latex. I cut open the fruit, pushed my hand through the non-edible sections and grabbed hold of a bright orange-yellow piece. It was smooth yet stringy in texture and tasted like my first piece in Thailand, ahh.

If you have never tried them and live in the south Florida area, then now is the time. They are a tropical fruit tree that produces large, rough green skinned fruit from its trunck. They have a short season and are grown from Homestead (Miami-Dade County) to Palm Beach County.