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Summer Produce: Pickled Peppers And Fresh Fruit Boat

Where's The Local Food In The Land Of Commodities?

Almost anywhere you go in rural Kansas, you're surrounded by locally produced food - wheat, corn and cattle are everywhere. But local food choices for the dinner table, that's another matter. Local food takes on a whole different meaning in the vast open spaces of rural Kansas.

"We have some of the worst food deserts in local communities where food is produced," said Mike Callicrate, a cattle rancher from St. Francis, in the far northwest corner of the state. Essentially, it's tough to find fresh food.

As for all that food in Kansas? Mostly commodities, and most of it is sent outside the state or even the country.

And as opportunities for exports expand, opportunities for local production become more limited. So to make local food work out here, you've got to innovate.

More: Read how farmers in Kansas are bringing local food to their communities.

Award-Winning Pickles From Barb Schaller

A good way to use up the abundance of produce you have from your garden or from your purchases at the farmers market is to preserve them.

"Anything homemade has to be almost exclusively better than anything you can buy in a supermarket," says Barb Schaller. She lives in Burnsville, Minnesota and cans throughout the entire growing season.

"From about the middle of May, when the rhubarb comes, followed by the strawberries, followed by the raspberries, followed by the stone fruits. Then come the pickles and the tomatoes and the sweet corn. By that time, it's time to deliver my goods to the Minnesota State Fair folks for their perusal and assessment."

Schaller is perhaps best known at the Minnesota State Fair for her bread and butter pickles – they have won seven blue ribbons over the years!

But, she admits that there's nothing special about her pickles.  "There's nothing exotic in the brine: sugar and vinegar and turmeric, mustard seed.  The pickles are sliced thin. The pickles are soaked with the onions and green peppers in a salt and ice soak for three hours."

More: Learn more about pickling from Barb Schaller, and see recipes for her award-winning Bread and Butter Pickles and Spiced Tomato Jam.

Pickled Peppers

Quick Pickled Green Beans And Asparagus

These green bean pickles are simple, it's all basically the same procedure as with the pickled peppers.  You can use these bean and asparagus pickles on sandwiches, toss them in pastas, use them in vinaigrettes for salads, serve them on top of grilled salmon, chicken or pork… any number of tasty uses for these!

The acidity in the vinegar is a natural preservative, so pickles are shelf stable for a few days, but if you're going to keep them for a long time, It's best to process them in a hot water bath or keep them in the fridge.

Watermelon And Fresh Berries In Tequila Lime Syrup

This dish is for folks who like cake decorating, pumpkin carving, ice sculpting and other crafty tricks with food. "Ice carvings and melon carvings make buffets a little more special," says Chef Daniel Orr. He uses a serrated knife to carve a whale out of an oblong watermelon. He then fills it with fruit (cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries) and drizzles some tequila lime syrup over top. This is an adult treat for your brunch buffet!

To sweeten the syrup, we use agave, which is made from the same plant that tequila is made from. It is sweeter than sugar and since it dissolves quickly, it's great for cold beverages like iced tea. Agave is also often used as a vegan substitute for honey.

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