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Potluck: Fall fun at Farmer John’s

Fred Sauceman • Oct 26, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Farmer John’s Produce in Elizabethton is the perfect place to celebrate the beauty and bounty of the fall season in East Tennessee. Located on West Elk Avenue, it has been in business for 32 years, at various locations, and always in the hands of the Dougherty family. Jeff and Crystal Dougherty are the current owners. John, the original owner, was Jeff’s father.

We have no dreams of moving to the tropics. East Tennessee will always be our home. We love the fact that there are four distinct seasons here. The growing numbers of roadside markets in our region are very much attuned to the changing of those seasons. Farmer John’s fare graced our table for most of the summer: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, corn on the cob, half-runner green beans, okra, cantaloupe, peaches, and potatoes. All of them were regionally grown.

Year-round at Farmer John’s, from Crystal’s Amish Country Deli, you’ll find Amish butter, fried pies, deli sandwiches, bacon, and farm-fresh eggs.

Visiting Farmer John’s on a beautiful October afternoon recently, we found a fall wonderland. Fodder shocks were available for sale, alongside bales of hay, decorative wood, and all colors of mums. The palette of color on the premises was stunning, with countless varieties of pumpkins and squash grown by Jamie Hughes in the Milligan community nearby.

Walking through the lot, another thing strikes you: the Native American origins of the foods we enjoy this time of year. Native American populations were cultivating squash and pumpkins long before Europeans came to these shores.

Farmer John’s stocks the largest number of cushaw squash we’ve ever seen. Most are green-striped; some are orange-striped. We’re still surprised at the number of people who are unfamiliar with this heavy, crook-necked squash. We get more questions from readers around the country about cushaws and what to do with them than any other food-related subject. The answer we always give: make pies.

Another squash that has been grown in the Americas for hundreds of years is the candy roaster, hefty and sweet-fleshed and a favorite of Cherokee farmers and cooks. Farmer John’s offered a large box full of the treasured squash.

Nearby was a pumpkin variety called One Too Many, named because the pattern on the skin is said to resemble bloodshot eyes. The names are as colorful as the produce.

As impressive as the inventory is at Farmer John’s, even more notable is the knowledge that each employee can share about the products being sold. One particular employee ended his break early that Saturday afternoon to educate us about a hybrid pumpkin called Speckled Hound. Its flesh, he told us, is especially sweet and great for pies. We took two home, looking ahead to our Thanksgiving dessert.

As one customer put it, Farmer John’s is the perfect combination: “great produce, great prices, and wonderful people.” The business is open all year long, and word is that Christmas trees are coming November 21 as another season begins.

Farmer John’s Produce

2100 West Elk Avenue

Elizabethton, Tennessee

Fred Sauceman’s latest book is Buttermilk & Bible Burgers: More Stories from the Kitchens of Appalachia.

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