Stuart, Florida, an Atlantic coastal town smaller than Oxford, offers ample opportunity to find distinctive local food. Finding it is not always easy, though.
Florida has special local food that is scarce if not impossible to find in Ohio. And seasonal produce that we get in the summer arrives in Florida in the winter and spring.
The best produce in our small coastal Florida town is found at outdoor stands tucked away in obscure back streets. Forget about finding organic produce. Florida just doesn’t do much of that. Settle for local instead.
Spring is the end of the Florida growing season for produce we associate with summer. Highlights include ripe strawberries, melons, and green beans grown around 5 miles inland.
The weekly farmers market is situated in a picturesque waterfront setting, accessed by a boardwalk. But most vendors offer prepared food or nonfood crafts catering to visitors.
The best lettuce at our local farmers market comes from siblings under age 10, who grow hydroponic lettuce on their front porch. I’ve not met their parents.
Our favorite Florida produce rarely seen in Butler County is avocado. Ohio groceries stock small dark rough skin Haas avocados. Florida avocados are much larger, with light smooth skin.
Haas avocados have a higher fat content, resulting in a somewhat more pronounced flavor. But Florida avocados hold their shape, so are better suited for filling the space left by the pit.
Speaking of the pit, the special bonus with a Florida avocado is that a miniature tree sprouts from the pit when suspended in water. We have a veritable plantation of Florida avocado plants in our Oxford home, though they will never be large enough to bear fruit.
The local farmers market features a long-time Bahamian who makes the area’s best conch salad. Conch is too tough to cook, so it is best chopped into tiny pieces and marinated in oil and vinegar with minced cucumber and tomato.
But the true glory for a locavore in coastal Florida is the local fish. We’ve had grouper, snapper, mahi-mahi, triple tail, swordfish and pompano. The first three can be found up north, such as at Luken’s in Findley Market, Southwest Ohio’s best seafood shop.
Pompano is a small delicate fish that is rarely shipped north. This year, we found not only regular white swordfish, but also a rarely caught pumpkin swordfish, so named for its color. Triple tail, said to be an ugly fish caught just offshore, tastes like a cross between snapper and grouper.
The best local citrus is actually available not in Florida but during the winter in Southwest Ohio. Indian River Direct sends a truck filled with oranges and grapefruit that stops once a month at numerous locations in Southwest Ohio. Nothing beats standing in a line at Middletown’s Eastern Lanes bowling alley on a snowy January morning waiting with others in the know for the citrus truck to arrive from Florida.
MOON Co-op Grocery is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. MOON Co-op, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. See it online at www.mooncoop.coop.
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