The Charleston Farmers Market sets up every Saturday downtown in Marion Square until December 19, just two days before the first day of winter. That’s about a month away, and the harvest from the surrounding sea islands — Johns, Wadmalaw, James, Edisto — goes on. It may even be fair to say (especially if you like greens) that the variety is as good or better now than it’s been all year. The extent of the local farm bounty was one of the most fun discoveries I had after moving to Charleston a couple of years ago.
Even though I’ve been cooking with greens from my raised beds out here on Sullivan’s for weeks now, I’ll stil be able to get fresh local produce for a while, if not all year round. By this time last year in the lowcountry we had dipped into the low 40’s just a few nights despite near freezing temperatures upstate, and even then summer crops like tomatoes, melons, okra, peas and peanuts still look great. Most farms are surrounded by water that’s about 65 degrees this time of year, which helps a lot. But this year has been really mild by contrast, which I’m not complaining about at all.
This time last year I was talking regularly with Jay Maynard at the Thackeray booth for a while, who had a lot of great information about what they’re growing, which I was beginning to gather together for an article in the Charleston City Paper’s Dish Dining Guide. I’m going to try to head out to the farm next week to check out some of the heirloom varieties they’re growing, and compare that to last year. Last year I asked Jay if the okra below was the red variety (which you never see around here). He said that no, it’s just green okra that’s wintering off — or naturally producing red tannins in anticipation of frost. He said Sean Brock (it always goes back to Brock) is cooking with an heirloom variety of okra called Copahee (which must be from around here), which is truly red in color.
Heartier cool-weather greens and roots like sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots and onions are not only abundant now, but are doing their best, and should be around until January or so. Some say collards and other greens taste best after a frost.
At home out on Sullivan’s Island I’ve had collards, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red and green kale and cauliflower planted for about a month. Just about everything looked wilted when we were in the upper 70’s, but it’s all happier and happier the cooler it gets. I’m looking forward to seeing how long the cool-weather vegetables last — and may even try to squeeze in an early spring crop after letting the bed lie fallow for a month or so, depending on the weather.