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Memories of Russian radishes

POSTED: July 30, 2014 4:00 a.m.

About this time of year, along the Russian Black Sea coast, radishes can be found in abundance at the open air markets and in all restaurants.

The radishes come from local farms scattered throughout the mountains. The little red roots were never a favorite of mine, although both of my grandmothers insisted on trying to stuff them down my throat as a kid. They hid them in salads and covered all the lettuce with dressing, but I could tell the bitter little things were in there. I wasn't fooled and I wasn't eating them.

So my first few years living and working in Russia saw the summer harvest as a non-event in my eyes.

People could be seen buying large volumes of radishes at the market and once again every salad I ordered was piled high with red cubed pieces of the root. I spent untold amounts of time shoving them aside or politely declining them when eating at friends.

Then one day the woman in charge of the office lunch put her foot down and said enough was enough. Lunch at work was traditionally provided by the company. Every day a catered meal was brought in right at noon and the entire office team sat down to share the meal.

I had to get used to this during my first days in the former Soviet Union because trying to stop the practice was equivalent to ending afternoon tea in England.

Over the years I found the lunch actually had benefits. I could practice my Russian and find out news from every angle of the team. It also generated a stronger more engaged group. Still I rejected radishes every summer until this fateful noon.

Everyone quickly joined in the outcry she had started. I had no idea what I was missing by not eating their radishes and it was an insult to everyone along the food chain that I rejected the little red roots outright. To keep the peace I ate a few.

Of course, it turned out they were quite good. That made me look rather foolish, but it also got me started on finding out why these tasted so much better than their Texas counterparts.

Two reasons finally surfaced.

First, they are grown on small farms and thus harvested exactly when ripe. Because of that they are distributed locally. The time from when they are pulled from the soil until they reach the plate is brief. That makes them tender and easy to bite.

Second, their flavor is not bitter because the soil in which they are grown is natural for growing radishes. Just like our own Vidalia onions these radishes grow where God meant for them to grow.

I found out that in the U.S., in general, they are grown on huge farms in soil that is highly fertilized, and they are harvested early in order to keep them stable until they reach the stores. By making the supply chain much shorter the Russians can wait until the roots are ready and they get to the table much faster.

It is a system many of us are now revisiting here in north Georgia.

Through many efforts including the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, the state's "Georgia Grown" campaign, our local chamber of commerce and even the mayor's efforts to expand our farmer's market; we are all trying to get back to the benefits of locally sourced food.

Such food tastes better, is fresher and often contains fewer chemicals. Returning to old practices is not something I typically champion, but in the case of locally grown food a return to the old ways has many benefits for all of us.

I am so sure of this fact that when people want me to try locally grown radishes I no longer hesitate. I will eat them; and that is something even my grandmothers couldn't get me to do.

Charlie Auvermann is the executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County and a local resident.

 

 

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