Labor Day is upon us. Grills. Smokers. Steaks. Ribs. Pork shoulders and chops. Chicken and other poultry. Burgers and Dogs. Shrimp and fish. Veggies. Add other choices. It’s a long list.
We all have our favorites. Some of us are willing to explore new things too.
One of the best ways to open our horizons is with add-ons. I'm not talking about a typical southern relish tray. These are great. I always remember their bounty. They are piled high with things like deviled eggs, stuffed celery, pickled peaches and other wonders.
These trays are usually passed right before a meal. Too bad we don't get some an hour earlier to really be able to enjoy them rather than to be tucked on our plates and nibbled on while we wait to attack the big items sitting close by.
Let's go beyond that. We need to come up with beautiful things that can be slipped into corners. Maybe stacked on top of something. Or simply cantilevered on the edge of a plate beside the meat and still not fall off. That's what we need.
Jam and preserves
The first thing that comes to my mind are foods like jam and preserves. Maybe even chutney. Tasty bits that can be enjoyed by the spoonful and always add interest to whatever we're eating.
This summer's fruit has been bountiful.
I've gotten fresh peaches for almost three months. Someone at the farmers market has had them. And they have been great. So sweet and juicy that when you eat some they run down your chin and onto your fingers. What a great memory for us and an experience for a younger generation.
It's been a great year for figs too - one of my favorites. It's been a battle with the birds to get as many as we could. Sure glad we won a skirmish or two.
It's been lots of fun making preserves and jam from figs and peaches. I plan to use those on Labor Day weekend at breakfast and as a touch of flavor for other meals. That sweet taste with fresh hot cornbread and butter is surely good.
There's no need for you to have put up preserves. You can use one fresh. My formula is 1 1/2 to 2 times fruit to sugar by volume or weight.
Simply get your fruit ready and then measure it. Always add some lemon. Go for the juice and zest or try slices. I let my fruit and sugar sit together for a while before cooking.
There are other ways, but this one is easy and works for me. You can use added pectin, but I tend to steer away from it. More sugar and the fruit flavor gets hidden.
Fresh fruit, dried fruits
Fresh fruit can be just as interesting. Just a few slices so everyone gets a touch can add interest. Sliced apples touched with a little lemon juice to set the color and you have it. They are tasty and attractive.
Fresh chutneys are an alternative. The same apples or peaches can be mixed with sugar and vinegar or lemon and some spices and there you have it. Select some green onion in there and a touch of red pepper and fresh cilantro if you like it and boom - fresh chutney.
Tomato salsa also fits the bill. Fresh veggies and tomatoes from a can or not make the task easy.
Add a touch of hot or sour and you have it. You can cook it or just use as is. We served a tomato relish at Jimmy’s that people really enjoyed. That's the same sort of thing that we did with a touch of sugar.
I also enjoy dried fruits. They add an intense flavor in a small space. Nuts are the same. A few pecans, almonds or walnuts add texture and flavor to a plate.
All the things we've talked about can be tucked into those tiny bare spaces that we find on our plates. You can serve a plate with food and pass these little things. People can always find a spot for this sort of add-on.
This Labor Day try finding a few tasty bits to add to an overflowing plate. There's always room for a special passenger like these.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.