Other than the high pollen counts, I love May and springtime. May marks the beginning of a very exciting season for Canton, with the arrival of two of my favorite downtown events, First Fridays and the Canton Farmers Market.
Our debut First Friday of the season was May 4. The theme was “May the Fourth Be With You,” and the Loose Shoes band was back by popular demand.
The popular block parties will be held 6-9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, through October. In addition to our amazing downtown restaurants, there will be plenty of food vendors on hand to manage the large crowds. As always, First Fridays are free and open to the public.
As the Culinary Councilman, the second event in May is near and dear to my heart – the Canton Farmers Market. This year’s market premieres 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 26, and will take place every Saturday through Oct. 27. I am already hearing great buzz about this season, and this event keeps getting bigger and better every year.
Due to the hard work and dedication of Micki and Frank Farley, our city staff, Main Street volunteers and our returning farmers, the Canton Farmers Market has become one of the best destinations for locally grown produce and artisanal foods in the entire region. I am like a kid in a candy store when the market opens, and each Saturday offers new surprises as the season progresses. In addition to the produce and entertainment, keep an eye out for some of the farmers market’s signature events, such as the Tomato Sandwich Festival, pie contest and many others.
At a recent City Council meeting, Canton Public Outreach Manager Pat Gold announced the lineup for this year’s First Friday events. Afterward, I commented how much I appreciated the hard work of our Canton Main Street Board and associated city staff. I recalled my former days as the first president of Canton Main Street, when we began First Fridays. I think we started with fourth Fridays, then third Fridays and perhaps even second Fridays before landing on the first Friday of each month. At that time, we were just hoping and praying someone would show up, and usually a few people did.
Several years later, it’s amazing to see the difference in the turnout for this event, the Canton Farmers Market, and our entire Historic Downtown Loop. I recently shared an article from Forbes on my Grant for Canton Facebook page: “Even in Small Towns, Downtowns are Hot Again.” One of the comments in the thread really summed up what I feel we have accomplished here in Canton: “It’s about finding what makes a town cool, preserving it, and building on it to create a place that instills pride in its residents.”
I am, and I have been since 1997, very proud to call Canton my home, and downtown is a shining example of what can happen when the community, its leaders and, more importantly, citizen volunteers come together to celebrate and revitalize their best assets.
With regards to best assets, it can be challenging to find fresh, in-season culinary ingredients as winter ends and spring awakens. However, one of the very first signs of the growing season comes in the form of English peas. As a kid, I wouldn’t get near them, especially the mushy ones from a can that were served at my house. I never even thought about using them, until I saw Julia Child prepare them on one of her PBS cooking shows.
As usual, she was entertaining and delightful in her advice to abuse the peas by bruising them with butter before cooking. I found some fresh peas and adapted her method to great results, developing a craving for them in early spring.
My closest friends and family also know I am not a huge fish lover. I think my disdain dates back to childhood memories of Southern fish fries and the associated smell that lingered for days. However, halibut is one of the mild, white flaky fishes that I enjoy the most, and the Pacific variety is at its peak in May.
They say spring really can hang you up the most, and that’s especially true when trying to cook a seasonal meal in this pollinated transition. However, everything is possible with a little resourcefulness and springtime optimism, and, with that, I am happy to share my recipe for sautéed halibut with minted pea purée. Bon appétit, y’all!
– Bill Grant, Canton city councilman and mayor pro tem
with Minted Pea Purée
• halibut filets
• clarified butter
• 2 cups fresh English peas
• 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, (chopped)
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• Salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
Prepare the pea purée first. Then, heat the clarified butter over medium heat until it just begins to smoke. Salt and pepper both sides of the halibut fillets, and add them to the pan, flesh side down. Leave in place for three minutes, and then flip carefully with a fish spatula. Sauté the other side for another three minutes. Remove from the pan, and serve immediately over the pea purée.
To make the purée, combine the peas, mint, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest in a blender or food processor. (If peas are frozen, thaw first.) While the machine is running, stream in the olive oil and broth in a steady drizzle. Once you have achieved the desired consistency, place the puree in a saucepan and warm over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Spoon the purée into a shallow bowl, and place the halibut filet on top. Garnish as simply or as elaborately as you desire. I like to use some sautéed whole peas and fiddlehead ferns with a bit of watercress and fresh mint.