I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Greens, Gumbo Z’Herbes, Spring and the welcome return of local farmer’s markets

The way I welcome back Spring and the return of the local farm produce is a New Orleans Lenten dish, green gumbo, or gumbo z’herbes (here’s my base recipe).  The markets launch in the first of May, and suddenly, I’m able to cook from local produce.

Just as Louisiana strawberries come in in late February/early March, two or so months ahead of our local ones (which will be even later this year, thanks to the cold), gumbo z’herbes works better here at a month or so after Easter, while in New Orleans it’s a traditional Good Friday dish.

This dish would not be recognizable as gumbo to a lot of folks without New Orleans roots.  It does have a roux (cooked to about peanut butter color, not dark chocolate), but is missing two elements of the Creole vegetable trinity (celery and bell peppers are missing, although I put celery in a bouquet garni).

What the dish is, is a wonderful mess of Spring greens, along with some sausage, ham, and brisket for flavoring (I’ve varied the brisket based on what’s locally available from Stan’s Meats, one year using beef shanks, this year using chuck roast).

It’s a tonic, and has is part of how I welcome the return of Spring.

At MidTown the last two weeks, I’ve had the what’s noted below, plus, for other meals, broccoli, eggs, fire and ice pickles, goat cheese, and other things I’m not remembering.  The market is off to a magnificent start.  And the greens below don’t show anything from Linda Boyd’s Oxford Berry Farm (she was at the first week market) and Flora Farms (at the second), both with greens in past year’s markets.  I’ve also liked what I’ve seen from this year from Yokonabottoms, and am looking forward to checking out the new market on West Oxford Loop on Tuesday (3-7 PM).

But here’s what went in the green gumbo:

From MidTown Farmer’s Market– Spinach, rape, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, spring onions, an unidentified green (the farmer sold it to me, but I didn’t remember the name), garlic.

From Woodson Ridge farms– Brussel sprout tops, mazinga (a kind of asian mustard-green-like green), mustard frill, lettuce, parsley.

From my yard– savory, Korean leeks, oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme

From Stan’s Meats– chuck roast

That would be 20 local ingredients, and 21 greens (counting Korean leeks and marjoram from my yard among those above, plus leeks, Swiss chard, arugula, cabbage, carrot tops, kale, and radicchio from Krogers).

I’m going to assert here that I have made a dish with the most local ingredients, ever.  Challengers with more than 20 are welcome in comments.  It’s my personal record for the number of greens, 21, breaking the 20 barrier for the first time.

New Orleans superstition has it you should always have an odd number of greens, and that for every green in the soup, you’ll make a new friend next year.

What I can tell you as a certainty is this:  This soup is worth making if you only have 9 or even 7 greens, but that the more you have, the better.  The greens complement and reinforce each other, and the combination cuts the edges among the greens .  I’m competing with myself about number, am delighted to break 20, with little doubt that this 21 green version is the best yet.

I couldn’t find a couple of usual suspects– beet tops and radish tops– and the Belgian endive at Krogers was both pathetic and $6 a head, so I didn’t get that.  In years past, I’ve had lovage, dandelion greens, pea tendrils, and watercress, so there’s still room for growth.  And there’s always the elusive pepper grass (found in the neutral ground in New Orleans).  I think I found some in the sliver of land behind my office last year, in early Summer, but saw none this year.

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