By Ron Aiken
May 24, 2013
Farm Fresh Vegetables + History + Irmo = Get In Your Car
For a Southerner, there is nothing in the world so wonderful as stopping to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a roadside stand in the summer. Nothing. Doing so is a rite of passage, and one of our most treasured ones at that.
On trips as a child to visit relatives or on our way to the beach, we’d stop when we’d see one, those little stands with only a few over-matched 2x4s between it and the scorching head of the midday sun, and we’d pick up fresh watermelon, peaches, tomatoes and anything else that looked good to take with us.
While those stands still exist – mostly as replicas of older ones, with words purposefully misspelled to make tourists think they’re authentic (maters, peachs and the like) – they’re not nearly as plentiful or as true to the roots of yesteryear, when they existed not just to lure Yankees out of their cars on U.S. 17 but to help local farmers make ends meet.
I say all that to say this: there is still such a place, in Columbia, and it is fantastic. For those of you fortunate enough to have grown up in Irmo (sorry, Lexington, but you’re not now, nor ever will you be, Irmo. Deal with it.), you know Bill Horton’s Produce Stand on Old Bush River Road as well as you know the McMillan Circle shortcut to the back of the high school and the hill at Seven Oaks Park. It’s in your DNA, as intertwined as Zorba’s or the Ole Timey Meat Market or Mathias Sandwich Shop.
Above Photo: Bill Horton’s Produce Stand has been open every year since 1982 on Old Bush River Road and continues to sell the freshest produce available.
As it seems like places are closing on St. Andrews Road every five minutes (in the past month alone, Food Lion has gone, Fred’s has closed and the old K-Mart is no more, not to mention the short-lived Italian place where Little Mexico used to be and others), it’s nice to know that some things don’t change. And when getting the freshest vegetables possible from one of the nicest, most-knowledgeable purveyors around and taking part in a time-honored tradition is one of them, well, that’s worth celebrating.
The stand, located at 5327 Old Bush River Rd., was started in 1982 by the aforementioned Bill Horton when his farm on the property adjacent to the stand produced more silver corn that season than the family possibly could eat, and they sold the remainder to help the family finances since Mr. Horton had just retired. It evolved over the years to feature a variety of produce and other related goods, and since 1993, it has been run by Mr. Horton’s son, Rick Horton, who is the reason it has remained a staple for so many for so long.
Photo at left: Rick Horton has run the stand since taking over for his father in 1993.
His day begins well before dawn, as he’s out the door by 3:30 a.m. to the South Carolina State Farmers Market to get the best of what’s freshest.
I taste everything before I buy it, Horton says. That’s how our tomatoes stay consistent throughout the year.
The stand, which usually opens April 1, got a late start this year, opening May 10. It will remain open through December, but right now is when you’ll want to make a special trip, because the peaches are hitting perfection – a woman shopping there when I stopped by on Wednesday afternoon couldn’t stop rolling her eyes every time she took a bite of one as she walked around – and the cantaloupe is fantastic.
Photo at right: The squash is sensational. I bought almost all of these, and will be grilling them this weekend. My preferred method is simple: slice them in half, baste with a little olive oil, dust with kosher salt and black pepper and throw on the grill for about three minutes a side, turning twice.
In fact, it’s the Athena cantaloupe’s that draw the highest praise from my rather particular step-father, a retired engineer from New Jersey and accomplished chef who swears they’re the best in the world. He can’t wait for Horton’s to open each year, and has one cut-up in the refrigerator and another ripening on the kitchen window shelf at all times while they last. As testimony to its deliciousness, the Athena cantaloupe was introduced in 1995 and only two years later accounted for between 80 and 90 percent of all cantaloupes grown in the eastern United States.
Another gem of the stand, besides the tomatoes and squash, are the heirloom tomatoes Horton gets when he can, specifically Cherokee purples, a variety he calls the Cadillac of tomatoes. And my God in Heaven, are they good. Eat one, and you’ll swear you’re tasting the original tomato. Its deep, complex flavor (almost nutty), its lingering acidity and the sweetness of its dense meat are almost enough to throw one off store-bought tomatoes forever.
Photo at left: Yes, I devoured this. I would have made a tomato sandwich – a Southern classic, on white bread with only mayo, salt and pepper – but I couldn’t wait for all that and dove in.
In addition to the peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes and squash, Horton’s has a host of other fruits and vegetables – watermelon, corn, okra, peanuts, local honey, regional sauces and marinades, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more.
Horton’s phone number is 803-772-5928.
Hours of Operation:
Mon-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.
BONUS! Want to learn more about roadside markets and state farmers markets in South Carolina? Of course you do, you clever sort, you. Here’s all the state’s certified roadside stands: http://agriculture.sc.gov/DisplayList.aspx?ContactListID=3. And here’s a page with the state’s three primary state farmers markets (along with more links you might find of interest) http://agriculture.sc.gov/statefarmersmarkets.
You. Are. Welcome. Now get out there!
Apropos of Nothing
All the time I hear people using the phrase, dog and pony show, as if such things are a normal part of life. As in, a person will complain about having to go in to work and put on a dog and pony show for a client, for the higher-ups, for whomever, for whatever reason.
I think it’s time people stop using that reference, because despite my strong desire to see one, I can recall no dog and pony show coming to my area in my lifetime, and I’m a little sick of getting excited about them only to be disappointed when they never appear. Now, I will be the first to admit I don’t know exactly what all goes into a dog and pony show. However, I have had a lot of time to think about them, and therefore I do have some ideas as to what I really would like to see.
First, I want to see a dog ride a pony. And not a dog standing on the pony’s back, like they do at the circus. Boring! I want to see a dog sitting in a saddle like a person, holding the reins in his paws, and let’s go ahead and put a cowboy hat on him and give him pistols, OK? I’m also pro-bandolier in this scenario, which, naturally, makes me pro-sombrero. Can the guns fire? Just caps? I’m alright with that. As long as they make noise and smoke and he can fire them off as he rides.
And are we thinking about putting another, smaller dog in a backpack on the dog riding the pony? We are, aren’t we? But hey, I’m just spit-balling here. Whatever the dog and pony show organizers can manage is more or less OK with me.
Second, I want to see a pony slide down a children’s slide. On its butt, with its back two legs sticking out, like dogs with infected glands do when they scoot around on the carpet to ease their discomfort. I want to see a pony do that. I’m open to what kind of hat best suits that activity. I’m thinking baseball cap, maybe turned backward. I’m also open to it being turned sideways; we can definitely have that conversation.
Photo at left: You put this atop a pony, and there’s not a cash box in America big enough to hold the dough you’re going to rake in.
Third, it can’t be all dogs and ponies, after all. You need something to keep things interesting, and that something is snakes. Snakes are what you need. I want to see a snake on a skateboard, maybe jumping something. Wait, definitely jumping something. Jumping what, you ask? I dunno, other snakes, I’d guess. All lined up in a row. Let’s get them in some ladies hats, too, while we’re at it. Just because they’re laying there doesn’t mean they can’t be hilarious, right? That should get us through a dog and pony costume change or two.
I could go on (seriously, I could), but for now let’s just say the finale should include ponies driving cars with sunglasses and leather jackets and their arms sticking out the windows, high-fiving each other and the crowd as they drive past. What are the dogs doing? That’s a good question. Maybe pulling the cars, like a sled? Nah, that could get crowded out there. Maybe pretending to surf on top of the cars, like in Back to the Future? Or maybe pretending to be police officers on scooters, trying to pull the ponies over? I’m open to suggestions here, because it has to be a big finish. Gotta leave ’em wanting more.
Til next time, peeps.
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