At the Saturday Charleston farmers' market, Raychelle Bennett offers a enormous pickled okra for tasting. Her delicious fresh pickles, which can be kept in the refrigerator, include beets with coriander seed, sweet and sour summer squash and incendiary cucumber spears spiced with four kinds of hot peppers.
A few days ago I was ambling along, minding my own business—hard to do, actually, on a steamy October morning, with the most delectable Southern things to eat and drink all around me—when a raspy voice called out:
“Here! Try one of these!”
I bit—and before I knew it, my mouth was exploding with flavor. Tangy, salty, blazing hot. The cool crunch of cucumber, the juiciness of ripe tomatoes, the pungent aroma of cilantro.
It was a fiery cucumber pickle, laced with blistering hot scotch bonnet peppers, improbably topped with an equally scorching fresh tomato salsa, and I loved it.
Raychelle Bennett, the cheerful pickle maker who had inflicted this divine torture on me, swiftly conjured up the antidote—a sweet and sour slice of summer squash, spiced with turmeric and mustard seed. While my palate was cooling off, she exclaimed: “I was up all night. I’ve been making pickles for the last 48 hours and I’m tired!”
Bread and butter pickles--cucumber slices in a sweet and sour brine--are an old Southern tradition. Raychelle makes them with and without hot peppers.
Around Charleston, Raychelle is famous for her refrigerator pickles which she hawks under the name Fresh Pickle Works at the weekly farmers’ markets at Marion Square and Mount Pleasant. Packed in unlabeled plastic containers, these crisp, spiced up veggies are pickled in a cold water brine. They’ll last for a couple of weeks in the fridge—if you can keep your hands off them that long.
“We are liking this a lot!” said a pretty brunette from Tennessee, sharing a enormous okra pickle with her look-alike sister. Raychelle uses some mystery ingredients in her brine, but she did reveal that the hottest pickles are spiked with four fiery peppers: scotch bonnet, habanero, jalapeno and the Charleston Hot, a local red cayenne that she grows in her garden.
And just like that I found myself parting with an unconscionable amount of money, stuffing my bag with sliced beets with whole coriander seeds, bread and butter pickled yellow squash, pungent okra, and those incendiary cucumber spears as fast as Raychelle could pack them.
Luckily B and I had the car and a cooler.
It may be October, but in Charleston it feels like August and you can still find vine ripe tomatoes and honeyed peaches at the Saturday farmers market. The mood is relaxed and friendly, everyone likes to chat, and best of all, you can eat while you shop.
Steve Dowdney got his "canning indoctrination" from his grandmother when he was a boy growing up on the family plantation. Old fashioned pickled green tomatoes and dilly beans are part of his Colonial Charleston Kitchen product line.
I must have tasted a dozen Southern relishes, jams and jellies at The Colonial Charleston Kitchen, where preserving maestro Steve Dowdney was signing copies of Putting Up, his stylish canning cookbook. Steve, a Citadel grad, Vietnam veteran and former stockbroker, learned the secrets of preserving at Rockland, his family’s plantation—his grandmother was famous for her pickled shrimp—and his book is not only replete with tempting seasonal recipes but also provides confidence- inspiring instructions for novice canners. Enchanted by it all, we scooped up big jars of plump pickled garlic and okra.
Cafe Tippeneaux serves up real New Orleans fare, including po'boys and muffaletas, the famed sandwich that originated at Central Grocery in the French Quarter.
Too many pickles? Well, how about New Orleans chickory coffee and beignets at Café Tippeneaux? Or you could just cut to the chase and get an oyster po’boy or plate of shrimp creole to devour while you’re walking.
Any one of the 19 sweet and savory crepes at the The Charleston Crepe Company would make an all day meal--especially the one with egg, spicy smoked sausage, peppers, onions and Swiss.
At 9:42 AM there was already a long line at the The Charleston Crepe Company, where orders for ham, egg and cheddar were vying with requests for nutella and chocolate….
At T & T's Kettle Korn, the popped corn is stirred in an aluminum kettle with a wooden paddle, then kept in a traditional copper cauldron until it is sold.
A warm, nutty aroma lured me around the corner to T & T’s Kettle Korn. The fluffy popped kernels, stirred in a big kettle with a little salt and cane sugar, were a must have. “Do you want the bag sealed , or open for snacking?” asked Tom, the kettle corn king. Open, of course!
One of the great things about the Charleston farmers’ market is finding really local produce, like these end of summer heirloom tomatoes and early fall pumpkins.
There were freshly shelled butterbeans and peas at the Robert Field Farm….
Cotton on the stem for your fall table at Tiverton Flower Farm…
And these mysterious “peas”. I shelled them as soon as we got home and cooked them with salty country ham and green peppercorns, a delicious memory of our morning at the Charleston market. Here’s the recipe.
You may also be interested in reading the original 13 Reasons I love Charleston: Shrimp and Grits, White Peaches, Buttermilk Biscuits.