Bob Renner retired in 1985 after 35 years as a Frisco Railroad mechanic, but sitting around wasn't his cup of tea. He and Kaye took up growing special produce for the market. One of their treats is our legendary native fruit, the Paw Paw, which Bob says "came up kind of by accident--I just threw the fruit out by the house and the seeds sprouted." But read on....
The Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) at 3-6 inches long and 1-3 inches wide is North America's largest edible fruit. It grows wild on a tree that can reach 12-20 feet tall. But forget the stats; the real point is that the fruit is delicious, at peak flavor tasting much like a perfect blend of mango and banana and becoming more banana-like as it ripens. Paw Paws are rated more nutritious than any other fruit and efforts are under way to make it a commercial crop. (Fun Note: Whenever you see a zebra swallowtail butterfly, you know Paw Paw trees are about; Their leaves are the zebra caterpillar's only food.)
|Purple Hull Peas|
The Purple Hull Pea (Vigna unguiculata) is really a bean. It's also regarded as a great Southern treat. One Renners customer swears by them, exclaiming, "They're real robust. They're blackeyed peas' big brother!" Southern cooks like to soak them an hour, add salt pork or ham hock, onions, and bacon drippings, then cover the whole with water and simmer 3 hours. The result can be eaten straight up or over rice. Mm-mmm.
The Renners' unusually pretty rose-colored radishes grow as long as 3 inches. "Usually radishes this big are hot, but these aren't hot at all," said one woman customer. We tried them and agree. Moreover, we found them to be exceptionally crisp and delicious.
Asked what he could tell us about the peppers, Bob said, "Well, they're good jalapenos, bell peppers, cayennes, and habaneros." We tried some and what do you know, he was right.
|French Red Shallots|
French Shallots are famed for rich, creamy flavor, tenderness, and fine texture. A main ingredient in French cookery, this member of the Lily family, closely related to onion and garlic, is used in in dishes where a much milder onion-like or garlicky flavor is desired. Shallots also caramelize well when exposed to heat, which makes them a favorite of gourmet chefs. Many use shallots in vinaigrettes, butters, jams, sauces, salads, and cooked with vegetables.
|Hard Stem Garlic|
There are two types of garlic: soft stem and hard stem (sometimes called softneck and hardneck). Hard Stem Garlic produce larger cloves that are easier to peel, which makes them a chef's favorite. Many prefer Hard Stem Garlic varieties for their wider range of robust flavors.
Told their spelling of "Kohlrabi" was the worst in history, the Renners laughed. Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea) is an easy-to-grow member of the cabbage family. One good way to prepare it is to trim off the root ends and smaller stems and cut the bulb into quarter-inch cubes for boiling, steaming, baking, or frying. The flavor is turnip-like and said to be delicious. Young Kohlrabi is also tasty raw and can also be sliced and marinated, or added to salads.
|Petit Pan Squash|
Everybody loves the whimsical look of Petit Pan squash (Cucurbita pepo) and those who know love its subtle flavor, too. You can bake this summer squash at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, take it out, slice it, and add salt, pepper, Parmesan, or whatever you please. (They can be steamed, too.) "Petit Pan," by the way, is French for "little pan." Common names include Patty Pan, Scallop, and Sunburst squash, and special varieties include 'Flying Saucer' and 'Pattison Panache.'
Butternut squash are probably the most popular winter squash and justly so, for they have rich orange flesh and extra-sweet flavor. Ozarks cooks can tell you about using butternuts in everything from soups to salads to...well, just ask 'em, they'll tell you.
|Zucchini & Squash|
Zucchini and Crookneck Squash fill out the menu.
The Renners grow several varieties of potatoes, including Kennebec, Red Pontiac, and Yukon Gold, which they especially recommend.
Kaye and Bob also bring to market a healthy crop of turnips.