When I was little, my family would drive from Virginia to Beaufort, North Carolina, multiple times a summer to take our boat out to Shackelford Banks or Cape Lookout, or to a pretty sandbar if we spotted one. The drive wasn’t short, but I loved watching the landscape go from mountains to pancake-flat. On the way home, we always stopped at a tiny farmers’ market on a scrappy patch of sand, one that sold bushels of peaches and little green paper containers of blackberries and Silver Queen corn stacked like cords of wood on makeshift tables. There were tomatoes, and fresh lima beans. Bent yellow squash that curled like little French horns. And cantaloupes. That’s the smell I remember, that scent of mounds of them ripe all at one time, like sweet, musky dirt.
My brother and sister were not quite as taken with the place. They headed straight for the ice cream cooler in the back and sat, bored, under the one whirring ceiling fan while my mom shopped, and I followed her around. She always bought too much. We didn’t have anything remotely resembling a farm stand this magical where we lived, and I think she bought a lot so that the feeling of being there would last longer. Meanwhile, my dad made room in the car, no small feat. Once the paper bags were packed, we crammed in and made our way home to enjoy the spoils of the adventure.
So yes, I have a thing for a proper farm stand, as many Southerners do. And when I moved to Charleston, I found one in Rosebank Farms’ market on Johns Island. Eleven years in, it is my favorite part about living here in the summer. The drive from my house takes about forty minutes down a road that gets less and less crowded with cars and more and more populated with live oak trees as we go. Rosebank offers all the things I loved about that childhood farmers’ market, as well as fresh flowers, just-off-the-boat flounder, homemade key lime pies in a little refrigerator, and a man I refer to as the “watermelon whisperer,” who inspects and thumps a few before handing you his choice.
A run to the farmers’ market has changed a little with the pandemic. Everyone is in masks and gloves. Only a few people can shop at a time. And there’s just more worry in the air. But there are still wonderful moments. I take my two-year-old now. A few Sundays ago, I was loading up the car and looked back to see him, half-eaten peach in hand, transfixed by a watermelon delivery. Six men formed a line from the back of the truck all the way to an empty display table and tossed the heavy green fruit to each other until the truck bed was empty. “They’re dancing Mama,” he said. It was a regular watermelon ballet.
When we get home, we turn our bounty into dozens of Duke’s mayo–and-tomato sandwiches on Merita white bread, big skillets of sautéed corn with butter and fresh basil, grilled okra, and a new one this summer: zucchini carpaccio, extending my memories created from the little rural produce stand on the way home to Virginia. And if you’re looking for a few ideas of your own, you can find Garden & Gun’s guide to seasonal summer produce–focused recipes here.