501 Life Magazine | The farmer's market and the black iron skillet
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The farmer's market and the black iron skillet

by Don Bingham

As the summer approaches, along with it comes the incredible delight of fresh fruits and vegetables with “all things good” from the garden!

Dee Reynolds of Greenbrier at the Conway Farmer’s Market.

The gathering of gardeners from all across the countryside to display their produce, offer the discriminating palate the opportunity to enjoy their produce and give opportunity for delicious presentations for dining throughout the producing season is a seemingly timeless tradition.

Conway offers such a tradition with the Conway Farmer’s Market, located in Downtown Conway. The farmer’s market became a Faulkner County offering more than 30 years ago, beginning beneath large oak trees on city property, then moving to the YBMA Fairgrounds, to Parkway, centrally located in the downtown area. 

Anything the palate desires is available from the garden — jams and jellies, baked goods, eggs, cheese, meats and even handmade craft items appear from time to time. It is not unusual to find great shopping music presented by local artists. 

The educational station provides handouts and fact sheets for “how to cook” the produce, nutritional values and preservation. The times for operation are from 6:30 a.m.-noon Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Melanie Malone, Family Consumer Science Agent with the Faulkner County Extension Office, is available for information regarding the Farmer’s Market at 501.329.8344.

There is no more important or valuable tool for cooking garden vegetables than the black iron skillet. The true “cook” would not endeavor to produce some of these recipes without some shape or form of a well seasoned cast iron skillet. This may not hold true for the actual “chef,” but for the success of these dishes, it would not be excessive for the cook to have a plethora of sizes and choices! An aluminum skillet just won’t do. It’s too dry. It won’t take oil the way iron will. It doesn’t conduct heat the way iron does, as the iron skillet cooks rapidly and evenly — it holds heat!

My wife and I own several iron skillets in various shapes and sizes. Some have been given to us, and some were found in garage sales and flea markets. One of my all-time favorites is from my mom’s collection. It’s a corn-stick pan. It has 12 rows of long stick shapes for the corn sticks — not muffins — Mom used to take to all church celebrations and that appeared on our table several times a week.

Just a side note, should you run across a skillet lid — GRAB IT! The right lids are much harder to find. An old aluminum Dutch oven lid will work — it has for years — but a black iron skillet lid that fits is a true pearl of wealth to have in your culinary jewel box! 

My dad was really the cornbread cook of the family. He used self-rising corn meal mix, eliminating the extra steps of baking powder, soda and salt. I tend to prefer this method as well, especially with a little more oil than the recipe calls for, a touch more buttermilk and a well seasoned skillet. 

Given below is one of Jack Butler’s tried and true black iron skillet cornbread recipes. Jack Butler is the author of “Jack’s Skillet and Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock.” Joe Darling, who is also a wonderful cook, gave me the cookbook.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a local farmer’s market — then go home and cook! It’s one of the gifts of the summer season we may still enjoy!

Black Iron Skillet Cornbread

4 cups whole-kernel yellow cornmeal

1 cup unbleached white flour 

6 tablespoons baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups butter or margarine

3 medium eggs

2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Thoroughly cut in all but two tablespoons of the butter or margarine. Add eggs and buttermilk and beat until a smooth, thick batter forms.

Melt reserved two tablespoons of butter or margarine in 10-1/4 inch black iron skillet (about two inches deep).

Turn off heat and pour batter into skillet.

Put cornbread in oven. Check after half an hour, although it may need to bake for another 10-20 minutes. Cornbread is done when it is lightly browned, risen and slightly split open on top.

Remove from oven and divide into sections of desired size. Butter immediately.


Turnip Greens*

2 large bunches fresh turnip greens

2 cups water

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 pound fatback, bacon or fatty ham scraps (or chicken base, if you want a healthier food style)

Wash and de-stem turnip greens, rinsing thoroughly to remove all sand and dirt.

Place in a large pot with water, salt and pepper and fatback, bacon or ham scraps.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until greens are tender, adding water as necessary to keep them from drying out. The longer they cook, the better they get. 

True Southerners love this dish with pepper sauce, vinegar or Tabasco sauce.

*This recipe also works for mustard greens, collard greens or any mix of the three greens. You may also add peeled and chopped (or whole small) turnip roots.

Garden Vegetables in Skillet

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup green pepper, shredded

2 cups diced celery

2 large onions, sliced

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup bacon drippings

2 teaspoons sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in large skillet. Cover over medium heat until tender. 

Six servings.