Going back to Ohio this year at the cusp of summer’s end and the start of fall was a really blessed opportunity to appreciate what’s so beautiful about rural communities, ethnic neighborhoods and simple, all-American living. I was born here, raised here, and spent some of my best years in the nooks and crannies of this rustic place. I rode my bike freely through the windy suburban streets and down large hills lined with cherry trees in the spring and enormous maple trees that changed to a fiery red, orange, and yellow every autumn. Just like clockwork.
With my parents a favorite past time of ours was to take drives into the country, stopping at small roadside stands of backyard gardeners selling their produce for such small amounts they were practically giving it away. Looking back, I think they enjoyed the social aspect of farm stand selling. Back then, they’d sit out front watching as passersby stopped to pick up plums, tomatoes, green beans or whatever was in season.
I still remember fondly a lovely elder couple from Croatia who was a fixture on the urban roads just outside of town. They knew us well, not by name, but by face. Language was a barrier, but they spoke with their hands and always gave the warm, generous gesture to “put more into the paper bag” that would be our seasonal, organic and very local produce.
It’s those country drives I miss.
And the frequent interactions with farm stand owners, those backyard growers I never realized would be a scarce apparition today.
That’s why I tried to spend as much time getting back to my childhood past times while visiting with the people who understand those pleasures the most.
It seemed like the moment I arrived back home this year, I was thrust into the essence of preserving the summer harvest. Everyone with enough space for a garden was gifting bags of healthy red tomatoes, gorgeous thick beans, and waxy, hot peppers. I even received one of the largest kohlrabi I’d ever seen. They said it had grown a bit too much.
One of the very first visits I had to my cousin’s home, I found my aunt intently peeling, seeding and chopping tomatoes (from her garden), green peppers, onions and a bit of tiny orange habanero peppers (from my cousin’s garden) to make her famous salsa (above). She added nothing more than a bit of lime and salt and we were set to snack. Organic, seasonal salsa that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg at a local organic store- the backyard is the store.
Soon after, my dad knew I was craving a bit of country scenery so he took me out a place called Mapleside Farms (info. at the end of this post) in Brunswick, Ohio. It’s a country farm store that sells local produce and mostly apple products from the orchards right out back. There’s also a hilltop restaurant that overlooks the orchards, which are amazingly beautiful this time of year. They also have events for families with kids like hay rides in the fall. It’s just enough country for those folks living close to the city who want to experience just a certain amount of outdoors.
They had lots of different apple products such as cider, caramel apples, apple cider vinegar and even a bakery filled with homemade goods. I managed to get away with the last of the season’s peaches, homemade sorghum, and of course, the apples. Lots of apples. Which later became homemade applesauce.
Later when visiting my grandmother, I found more to be learned about how our Sicilian family utilizes the fresh Ohio produce to make traditional meals that are perfectly delicious here and made seasonally.
The best example of this (aside from my grandmother’s Sicilian Tomato Sauce) is this really quick Swiss chard dish my aunt prepared while another aunt was showing me the secret to making the best tomato sauce in the world (in our humble opinions, of course)- my grandmother’s recipe. When you’ve got tomatoes, garlic, and Swiss chard, why you’ve got a meal. Simple food at its best. (Get the recipe here)
On one of my last days in Ohio, my dad and I eagerly drove out to Hunt’s Organic Farm in Oberlin, Ohio. Last year we stumbled upon this place by accident; this year we knew exactly where and why we were headed this way: to fetch some good old organic eggs for ourselves and our family members who had never tried them before.
Our quest led to some disappointment.
We should have called ahead.
All the eggs were gone.
If you go (which I think you should), just call ahead. And bring cash.
Here’s more information about the places mentioned above and other organic food resources I’m familiar with in Ohio.
Mapleside Farms/294 Pearl Road/Brunswick, Ohio 44212/330.225.5577
Hunt’s Organic Farm (organic eggs)/Oberlin, Ohio/call ahead for egg pick-up: 216.935.5643
Jorgensen’s Apiary (Honey and Bee Products)/Grand Pacific Junction/25546 Mill St./Olmsted Falls, Ohio/440.235.5BEE
Pickering Hill Farms/35669 Detroit Road/Avon, Ohio 44011/440.937.5155/Open June-November
Nature’s Bin (Organic Food Store)/18120 Sloane Avenue/Lakewood, Ohio 44107/216.521.4600