Plant City, Fla.—Blueberry wines are delicious and healthy. Florida farmer Joe Keel, founder and owner of Keel & Curley Winery, has been making blueberry wine since 2003. His first 10-gallon experiment came out OK and so he kept trying until he got it right, according to the company webpage.
In May, of this year I travelled to their Plant City winery and 25-acre u-pick farm for a taste of their blueberry wine.
Inside Keel & Curley Winery’s massive tasting room and gift shop there were plenty of people to keep me company.
I bought a glass of their semi-dry blueberry wine. It had a dark ruby red color. The description, on their website, said the wine was a full-bodied merlot style wine. But I found it to be more of a lightweight wine.
It was more akin to a light California sipping wine rather than a full bodied European style, meal-accompanying wine. But this was the perfect wine for an end of a hot and steamy Florida day.
The company makes over 20,000 cases of wine a year of wine, and has expanded to include Florida blackberry wine along with grape & fruit blended wines.
They are located at: 5210 Thonotosassa Rd., Plant City, FL 33565
Phone: (813) 752-9100
They are open 7-days a week at varying time so check the website for more info: www.keelandcurleywinery.com
This website is about the farmers, gardeners and farms in Florida and Southeast United States that supply food to restaurants, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, families and other individuals that crave fresh, locally grown ingredients.
I have been an underground farm-to-table journalist for six years and have spent countless hours travelling around Florida and Southeastern United States gathering stories of these hard working people and their supporters.
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Loxahatchee, Fla.—Kenari Groves has been growing jackfruit for over a decade. Owner, Rose Khin grows several different types that ripen throughout the year. Jackfruit is the flavor behind juicy fruit gum and it can grow as large as 100 pounds. Khin’s biggest was 82 pounds in 2008.
You don’t have to buy such a big fruit because they grow in all sizes starting at just one pound.
"I pick it right from the tree for you. Only when people come, I cut," she said, with a smile, during a recent visit.
Kenari Grove does not ship fruit or deliver so if you want one of these tasty jackfruit you'll have to book an appointment and travel to their grove in Loxahatchee, Fla.
Khin will help you learn ways to store the fruit. If you are not satisfied she will replace it.
There is a silver lining to this style of sourcing. The price per pound will be lower that at markets and the fruit will be a lot fresher.
Khin grows many other types of tropical and sub-tropical fruit but you'll need to call to find out what fruit is in season and what’s the price.
Her phone number is (561) 313-7202
You can also find out more about them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KenariGroves
Autumn is here and it's pear season again. It means, if you’re lucky, that you might find some old timey Florida varieties called Sand pears. They are the descendants of a Chinese hybrid pear that was bred in the 1880s.
You’ll find them growing in some backyards and some farms around Ocala and Central Florida. But you won’t find many because of their fruit characteristics that don’t make them very good for raw eating. They are small, hard, pear with tough skin and grainy flesh. But despite these drawbacks they are very delicious when cooked.
The first time I encountered them was in 2009 at a farm-to-table dinner held at the Seminole Inn in Indiantown, Fla. The pears had been grown and were harvested in Ocala. The chef poached the pears in some Florida wine and they were delicious albeit a bit gritty.
Recently, I came across them again, this time in Orlando, at Local Roots Distribution store in the East End Market. They were selling for $4 a pound. I bought seven pears.
When I got home I poached them in wine and water for 60 minutes. The results produced a delicious, flavorful dessert.
If you want to buy some sand pears you can contact Local Roots Distribution or find someone in Ocala that might sell you the fruit from their old timey tree.
Muscadine grapes are in season again. They are a native grape variety to Florida and have a unique flavor that is very different than other grapes. Muscadines are used to make jam and wine and can be eaten raw. They have a very thick skin and might make your lips tingle when eaten raw. But their sweet, spicy, pungent flavor and juiciness are well worth the risk.
Muscadines also have the highest level of antioxidants of any edible grape variety.
You can find fresh muscadine grapes at most grocery stores from August through the end of September. But if you are looking for fresher fruit then contact a Florida vineyard in your area and see if they allow u-pick.
The closest vineyard to South Florida that allows people to pick their own grapes is Henscratch Farms in Lake Placid.
They are open Tues. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sun. 12 noon to 4 p.m. You can reach them by calling (863) 699 - 2060 for more details.
Slow Food USA had a Speakeasy Ark Of Taste Cocktail Competition this year. In April, participants from all over the country submitted cocktail recipes. Asian American, Irene Jade, of Delray Beach, was one of the winners with a mango cocktail.
The competition was open to 21-year old or over amateur and professional mixologists, and had one main requirement—that all the drinks include at least product from the Ark of Taste.
Jade, an avid gardener, Locavore, cheese maker, and co-chair of the Slow Food Glades To Coast, used a Shrub in her Mango By The Sea cocktail.
The type of Shrub was not one you’d find in a garden but instead it is an old timey, before refrigeration, method of preserving fruit in syrup made with sugar and vinegar.
Pascale’s, Delray Beach Jam Company, created Jade’s Shrub from ginger and Florida mango.
“The mango is from her backyard. And the mango nectar was saved from her hot sauce,” said Jade about Pascale.
The Florida Distillery in Central Florida made the cane vodka.
“Cane Vodka really embodies Slow Food. It is made in small batches with South Florida grown cane and bottles that are made in the USA,” said Jade.
Mother nature made the ginger and Florida Key Lime juice.
“I really wanted to use ingredients local to the South Florida area,” said Jade with a smile that could light up a room.
Her passion for sourcing local came early from her mother who grew most of what her family ate and made everything from scratch.
“I want people to support local Florida agriculture,” said Jade.
Mango By The Sea Cocktail recipe
1 oz. Florida Premium Cane Vodka
2.5 Tbsp. Pascale’s Mango Ginger Shrub
3 Tbsp. fresh Florida mango nectar
1.5 oz. fresh Florida Key Lime juice
0.25 oz. fresh finely grated ginger
Combine all ingredients, stir and add ice. Or put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake and pour into a glass. Garnish with fresh Florida Key Lime zest.
Davie, Fla.— Finding delicious Florida grown coconuts can be hard. But Brooklyn born farmer Larry Siegel's 40-acre coconut plantation in western Davie has made it easy. He grows tasty Malayan coconuts without pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Instead he has herds of free-range ducks, turkeys and chickens that take care of all these concerns.
"I've been here in Florida since 1976 and I have had this property since 1997," said Siegel during a recent interview at his plantation.
He started out with the idea of having a food forest, "I had ten of everything...ten types bananas, ten types of orange, ten types of coconuts. You name it and I had ten types of it." But Hurricane Irene destroyed everything.
Then Siegel started producing mulch but came across problems with waste management. This pushed him to diversify again and settle on the idea of growing coconuts starting in 2006.
But the harsh freezes of 2008 and 2009 slowed down this idea and killed half of his plants. So he started a plant nursery business to pay for the reconstruction of his coconut plantation.
Today he has 4000 trees in different stages of maturity, "In two-years time we should be at full production," said Siegel.
He supplies many South Florida restaurants with young and mature coconuts. He also sells to the public through a mail order system.
"I ship all over the country," said Siegel with a smile.
He also sells Hawaiian Hua Moa plantains, Asian bananas, and palm trees along with other tropical plants.
To find out more about Florida Coconuts, you can go to www.florida-coconuts.com
Or call him at (954) 297-6677
Stuart, Fla.—Dark chocolate is good for you. At Castronovo Chocolate they make dark chocolate from ethically sourced cocoa beans in Direct and Fair Trade purchases from Central and South American farmers. Owned by Jim and Denise Castronovo, this is the only South Florida artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate factory. “The best time to visit is on Mondays when we roast our beans,” said Jim during a recent tour.
All their ingredients are organic like the naturally fermented heritage cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice, and cocoa butter.
Along with low temperature roasting, Denise, the chocolate maker, also cracks the beans to get to the nibs. These are then winnowed and ground into a paste. Next comes the melanger machine that conchs the paste with movement and warmth to remove bitter acids from the chocolate.
“This is my favorite part,” Denise said, with a huge smile, about the conching process, “I love tasting the chocolate when it is in this machine.” She grabbed a handful of clean spoons and giggled as she dipped each into the moving, warm chocolate.
Handing them out to the audience of Foodies on the tour, she said, “It is low in sugar. We put it in a few hours ago and it will continue overnight without stopping.”
It was a delicious full flavored spoon of heavenly chocolate. And the low sugar content actually helped the flavors shine. “Our chocolate is like wine, no two batches taste the same,” said Denise.
Tempering and molding are the final stages of the week-long bean-to-bar process.
Everything is made by hand with techniques pulled from the early 19th Century. Jim and Denise even wrap each 4 oz. bar of single-origin chocolate by hand. Oh and they also make truffles and chocolate chip cookies.
To find out more about Castronovo Chocolate you can visit their factory/shop Mon. to Fri. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., and Sat. 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. They are located at 555 S Colorado Ave., Stuart, FL 34994, Phone (561) 512-7236
You have to be a local to know where Uncle Ernie's Bayfront Grill & Brew House is. This Florida Panhandle restaurant embraces ocean-to-table practices and passionately supports local fishermen. I found them by accident in October when I went in for lunch and some brews. Uncle Ernie's passion for local seafood meant they would not sell me oysters because there were no local varieties available at the time.
So, I ordered a Fresh Catch Of The Day sandwich made with Florida Gulf caught grouper. It came on a croissant style roll with sautéed mushrooms, fresh tomato, lettuce and pickles.
I wanted to try a flight of beer after my server told me they had some home brew selections. She also told me the Grill was outsourcing their brews to Sweet Water Brewing Company in Georgia but the recipes were all Uncle Ernie's. I thought their beer flight (sampler) was a bit expensive at $12.99 but decided to order it regardless. Normally beer flights are four to five dollars for four 3oz. glasses of beer.
My server said it would take a bit of time to get the beer to me. This was no problem, the day was pleasant and I was sitting outside on the porch looking out over the water.
Some 10 minutes later my server returned with a tray of 12 small glasses of beer. Uncle Ernie's flight was actually a selection of every beer on tap including three of their own. People at nearby tables stared as she set the glasses on the table in a three by four grid pattern.
The Uncle Ernie's brews were: Innes Pale Ale, Miss Jessie's Lite Blue Brew and Amber Ale.
Innes Pale Ale had a strong flavor of hops, Uncle Ernie's Amber Ale was very smooth and full bodied, and Miss Jessie's Lite Blue Brew, with blueberries, was similar to a pilsner with a very floral smell.
To find out more about Uncle Ernie's Bayfront Grill & Brew House you can visit them at 1151 Bayview Avenue, Panama City, FL 32401 or call (850) 763-8427 or go to their website http://uncleerniesbayfrontgrill.com
Wellington Green Market, Fla: Local Bananas and More
Most bananas are gas ripened but not the ones at Wellington Green Market. They have many Florida grown varieties for sale from as little as $0.50.
This Saturday morning green market supports local South Florida companies. "The growers' farms are close to the market. So we have attracted busy farmers, with short travel, to retail their just harvested products," said Peter Robinson, Organizer of the Wellington Green Market.
There are also hot pepper and vegetable sellers at the market as well as a tropical sea of other vendors.
Gluten-Free to Organic Items: Sarasota Farmers Market, Fla.
Sarasota Farmers Market overflows with selections from gluten-free caterers to organic farmers' produce.
I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and number of vendors at this 30-plus year old, farmers market in downtown Sarasota, on the West coast of Florida. It took up three city blocks in a row and eight side streets and included over 70 vendors. There were three-organic farmers, many plant vendors, lots of food booths, crafters, dog treat booths, coffee merchants, honey producers: and the list went on and on.
I stopped by Good to be Gluten-Free catering, run by former restaurant owners Christine and Jeff Harman. They had a broad selection of gluten-free items on one side and gluten-free, lactose-free items on the other. I bought some lactose-free cup cakes.
Jeff said I to be careful with his products because they did not have much of a shelf life.
I also stopped by Worden Farm's booth, a certified organic farm in Punta Gorda, Florida. Chris Worden, the owner, smiled and answered as many questions as there were about his produce. He wanted his customers to find what they were looking for: hyper-fresh organic produce as reasonable prices. The booth also served as a pick-up location for Worden's CSA members.
The day I went, the booth was crowded with equal numbers of fresh produce and customers. I bought a delicious spring mix bag for $4, red baby kale bag also for $4, and the biggest head of endive lettuce I had ever seen for $4.
I ran out of time and did not get to visit with as many booths as I desired. So next time I'm going to set aside the whole morning to see what other treasure the Sarasota Farmers Market contains.
Parking can be a challenge. But I found a free, multi-level, garage, just across the street from the Sarasota Whole Foods Market on 1st Street, and around the corner from the market.
For a complete list of vendors go to this Sarasota Farmers Market page.