After nearly 10 years in Texas, my trips back to my home state of Missouri only seem to get sweeter.
That’s probably because I always try to go in the fall, when I can eat apples from Marionville, the small town famous for orchards and white squirrels right next to the slightly less-small town that I grew up in.
You can find some locally grown apples here in Austin, but for most of the year, I’m munching on what could very well be year-old apples sold at grocery stores here, and they just don’t have the superlative crunch and sweet juiciness of Marionville apples.
In addition to more than half a dozen apple varieties, Murphy Orchard also sells cider slushes and huge bags of seconds, apples that are only slightly less perfect than the firsts.
While I was in Aurora, I also got to check out Shiners, a new craft beer and specialty food shop from Shawn Briggs, a hometown hero who started Bootlegger’s Brewery in an old bank downtown more than 15 years ago.
That restaurant did more than Briggs would have ever imagined to elevate dining culture in Aurora (population 7,500), and I was devastated to find out that a fire had put him out of business.
Former employees plan to reopen the restaurant, which served some of the best freshly baked bread in town at every table, every time, but Briggs is focusing his food energy, including marinated meats, olives, cheeses, steaks and homemade dressings, on this store.
It’s on the south side of town in a small, newly built strip center, and the space has a drive-through window, so you don’t even have to get out of your car to buy that six-pack of Missouri Mule IPA from the Piney River Brewing Company (my new Show Me favorite).
On another leg of the trip, I visited friends in Columbia who always have fun food surprises up their sleeves. This trip, it was fermented bananas and the last of their backyard raspberries, which somehow survived the previous night’s freeze, the first of the season.
However, it was the fermented bananas that I was most looking forward to. I’d been hearing about this experiment – mixing perfectly ripe bananas with a little salt, honey and water and storing in a closed Mason jar for a few days – and couldn’t fathom what they’d taste like.
The banana pieces weren’t as mushy as I thought they’d be, but the liquid in the jar had the definitive bubbly tang I was hoping for.
The salt was the linchpin, though.
I’d never thought about how the soft creaminess of a banana might benefit from a pinch of salt, but the savory wink flattered a fruit so ubiquitous that we’ve forgotten how to appreciate its nuanced flavors. (This is a good time to remind you all that the Austin Fermentation Festival will take place on Nov. 15 with the fermentation expert of fermentation experts Sandor Katz.)
If you try making these fermented bananas at home, consider putting them in the fridge after they’ve reached their peak, usually after a day or two sealed on the counter, maybe three if it’s really cold.
The fruit will continue to ferment and become more like a banana wine, which might not be a bad thing after all.