To see the gear stacking up by the front door, you’d think my household was headed to the beach this weekend. But the sunscreen and hats, bug spray, coolers and straw baskets are standing ready for a weekend dedicated to touring area farms and purchasing produce, meat, eggs and dairy products at the 13th annual Piedmont Farm Tour April 19-20.

We’re taking plenty of water and picnic snacks, plus a notebook for jotting down meal ideas. We have an idea we can harvest a week’s worth of meals from this outing, but we’ll see. We know for sure we can count on most of the ingredients for the following menu. If you can’t make the tour, you should also be able to find the supplies to cook this meal at local farmers’ markets.

Take the tour

The 13th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour takes place at 35 farms in Orange, Chatham and Alamance counties Saturday and Sunday April 19-20, 1-6 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 on tour weekend for all farms or $10 per car per farm. Tickets can be purchased at as well as at local outlets listed there. Guide booklets are also available online and at area farmers’ markets.

On Thursday, April 17, Weaver Street Market in Carrboro will host a kickoff party from 6-8 p.m., featuring live music, wine tasting and a chance to meet host farmers and tour organizers from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Panzanella, the restaurant next door to Weaver Street, is also hosting an exhibit of farming-related art in honor of the tour, through June 1.

Farm tour tips

  • Choose four to five farms to visit per day.
  • Bring a cooler to keep purchases cool.
  • Leave pets at home.
  • Volunteers receive a free pass and T-shirt: e-mail

2008 farm tours

If you miss the Piedmont Farm Tour this weekend, check out these other opportunities:
  • May 31-June 1: Upstate South Carolina Farm Tour
  • June 28-29: Mountain Farm Tour
  • Aug. 2-3: High Country Farm Tour
  • Sept. 20-21: Eastern Triangle Farm Tour
See or call 542-2402 for more information.

I created this dinner menu based on availability after some scouting of the tour’s 35 farms, including what should be in season at each by this weekend. I wanted to give simple versions of festive meals to celebrate spring and our area’s bounty. Luckily, we are coming into strawberry season and the beginning of our area’s long summer fruit harvest.

Not so luckily, this year’s Piedmont Farm Tour coincides with news that food prices continue to rise. One time-honored way of dealing with that strain on the wallet is making flavorful meat go further by combining it with filling, high-fiber vegetables and whole grains. Whole grain brown or white rice provides fiber and protein if we use the long cooking kindnever instant or par-boiled. During the 40 minutes (20 for basmati or jasmine) it takes to simmer rice to sticky tenderness, you can whip up the stir-fry.

The pork and veggie combination here can also be tweaked according to taste. I made this mild version to bring out the sweetness of the meat and these particular vegetables and to be kid-friendly, but you can improvise herbs and spices to customize. The pound cake takes time to bake, but not too much attention nor heavy mixing; it can also be made ahead. When working as a group of three or four in the kitchen, one of us mixes this up and pops it in the oven to bake while the others assemble the rest of the meal.

With a simple starter of local goat cheese spread on baguette slices, this meal offers a three-course menu with an array of local flavors that are fuss-free enough for a weeknight meal and tasty enough for a relaxing special evening with friends or family. As always, recipes are designed to serve four, ingredients can be doubled easily, and leftovers are a welcome find in the fridge.

Gingered Pork, Baby Bok Choi and Hakurei Turnip Stir Fry

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1 pound ground pork, or boneless pork chops sliced into thin strips
2 bunches baby bok choi, stalks cleaned and leaves coarsely chopped
1 bunch Hakurei turnips, also known as salad turnip, no need to peel these, and as always, the younger the better, sliced and green tops chopped
3 teaspoons sesame oil (peanut or walnut can be substituted)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce (more to taste)

Cook rice according to package directions with a tight-fitting lid to seal in nutrients. While rice simmers, gently brown the meat using 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet, draining excess fat if needed. Set meat aside. In the same skillet, add the rest of the sesame oil, ginger and soy sauce, and heat on medium flame. Add turnips and bok choi to the oil mixture, and sauté until hot through. Return meat to pan, continue heating for 1 to 2 minutes. (If your rice isn’t ready or you want to have a starter, let the stir fry rest at this point, and when you are ready to fluff the rice and serve plates, turn heat back up on high for just a minute to reheat.) Throw in the chopped bok choi leaves and turnip tops at the last minute and stir until the greens wilt. Spoon over the rice and pass the soy sauce.

Easy Pound Cake with Strawberry Sauce

Whether you use buttermilk or sour cream in this recipe, the result is a spongy texture just right for soaking up the berry juices; it also freezes well for putting by against a rainy day or next week’s pint of fresh local strawberries. Local dairy products and eggs are easy to find on the tour or at farmers’ markets; strawberries are just coming in season.

Grease thoroughly and dust with granulated sugar a stainless steel angel food cake pan, preferably without a nonstick coating, which can cause crust to darken. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (half of a pint tub)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk (for spongier finish) or sour cream (for denser crumb). You could also substitute whipping cream “soured” with a teaspoon of lemon juice and left at room temperature for an hour before mixing into the batter.2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extract
fresh strawberry sauce (see recipe below)

Mix flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a food processor, cream the butter and sugar until very light. Scrape down sides and run machine a bit longer to make sure all is incorporated. Add eggs and extract, processing until thoroughly combined. Add buttermilk or sour cream, pulsing with just a few on-offs to barely mix. Add flour mixture, folding in by hand to keep things light or with a few gentle on-offs until flour disappears into the batter. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter from processor bowl into the prepared pan, and distribute evenly; try not to streak the sides of the pan.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan, and then turn onto a rack (from this point you can flip it upright onto a second rack, if you like the rippled top of your pound cake to show, as I do). Slice and serve with sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.

Fresh Strawberry Sauce

2 pints strawberries, washed and hulled
1 tablespoon orange juice or water
1 tablespoon of sugar (or more, to taste)

Slice strawberries into a glass or other non-reactive bowl. Puree one half-cup of slices in food processor or blender with orange juice or water and sugar. Pour puree over the sliced berries and toss gently to coat. Allow to stand at room temperature until serving. Refrigerate leftovers.