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On Cooking Southern: Let’s Get Healthier, Pile on the Fruits and Veggies

on cooking southern veggie pizza


Plumb: Not to be mistaken for PLUM, the fruit… A form of measurement, technically referring to whether or not something is level, but in Southern vernacular, referring to just how much… as in plumb tuckered out, or plumb full, or plumb sick and tired …


I always get a kick out of the V-8 commercials on television. You know the ones. A self-righteous protagonist bops a presumed idiot on the head for not consuming his daily vegetables in V-8’s all-in-one juice beverage.

The scenario may be extreme, but the concept has merit: There’s no excuse for omitting our daily vegetable intake, and the all-in-one approach always gets the job done. The same concept applies to our daily fruit intake.

Zucchini and squash at the Mid-Town Farmer's Market
Zucchini and squash at the Mid-Town Farmer’s Market

The topic is particularly important for Magnolia State residents.

The July 10 “Morbidity and Mortality Report” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes a report on American consumption of fruits and veggies, citing data compiled from a 2013 state-by-state study.

The data reveals that 9 out of 10 adult Americans do not consume the recommended daily minimum of fruits and veggies. The amounts should be 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily and 2 to 3 cups of veggies daily. NOTE: Fruit rollups don’t count.

Even in California, arguably the epicenter of our nation’s fruits and nuts, only 18 percent of the population eats the daily fruit minimum and only 13 percent eats the daily veggie minimum.

Once again, our region of the South ranks at the bottom of the list. Check it out:

  • Louisiana … (9.8 percent fruits, 6.9 percent veggies)
  • Alabama … (9.5 percent fruits, 7.1 percent veggies)
  • Arkansas … (9.4 percent fruits, 7.5 percent veggies)
  • Mississippi … (9.5 percent fruits, 5.5 percent veggies)
  • Tennessee … (7.5 percent fruits, 6.2 percent veggies)


How is this possible?

We Southerners usually don’t need an excuse to eat veggies and fruits. We grow ‘em for the nation and we love ‘em (think vegetable plate or meat and three at the local diner). We are world renowned for our ancestors’ creativity in prepping and consuming them. Raw, right out of the garden, or marinated as a salad, or pickled, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed or pureed. We even wax poetic or burst into song about our luscious fruits, which we love to preserve, bake, fry and puree.

Cherry tomatoes at Mid-Town Farmer's Market
Cherry tomatoes at Mid-Town Farmer’s Market

And it’s probably been a long time since most of us actually measured out a mere cup-sized serving of anything. Like other Americans, we tend to scarf down Big Gulp-sized portions of whatever we are consuming.

But the South is infamous for “food deserts” and for pockets of poverty in both rural and urban areas. Food-desert inhabitants must travel at least 15 miles to the nearest grocery store for reasonably priced fresh produce. In our state, the distance can be much farther. Stop-and-go shops and gas stations don’t count; they might carry produce, but the per-piece costs can soar — a pineapple might sell for $6, or a single banana for $2.

Tyler Mac Inness, a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the nonprofit Mississippi Center for Justice in Jackson, reports that more than 20 percent of Mississippians — including more than 30 percent of our children — are what the USDA labels as “food insecure,” meaning they do not have consistent access to nutritious food. The food gap widens during the summer months when children are out of school, without transportation to reach Summer Nutrition Food Program sites.

Okra at Oxford City Market
Okra at Oxford City Market

Coalitions are actively working to combat these obstacles, through community supported gardens such as the one in Oxford, whose purpose is to help people grow fresh produce. They provide it to people in need, while increasing community social interaction in an educational setting. Teachers also have begun “fun” projects with students in some elementary schools to grow produce such as tomatoes, beans and squash in containers.

Our culinary and agricultural professionals also have been collaborating with local governments to support community farmers market coalitions such as the Oxford City Market, which accepts SNAP (EBT food stamps), and Oxford’s Midtown Farmers Market, a Mississippi Certified Market with all locally grown foods.

But we all need to do more. Educating people about food planning and food budgeting is where to start.

Bost Farm produce at Mid-Town Farmer's Market
Bost Farm produce at Mid-Town Farmer’s Market

Nutritionists note that the consumer public generally associates fresh food with high grocery costs. In addition, there’s a public misperception that fresh food requires too much time for preparation. It’s no wonder, then, that packaged and processed foods tend to be doubly desirable for the ill-informed on tight budgets.

We don’t need large amounts of fruits and veggies to achieve the minimum daily requirements. For example, a single banana and half an apple meet the daily fruit allowance, as do several generous dollops of real fruit preserves on breakfast biscuits, along with snacks of mixed berries during the day.

A creative cook can sneak small amounts of produce into any dish … or large amounts…. Think carrot cake or zucchini bread!


There’s nothing sneaky about this week’s recipes, which pile layers of glorious produce onto refrigerated and frozen dough. It’s all about the fruits and veggies here, not the delivery.

A pastry is crafted with flakey crust surrounding a sweet concoction. Pie is pastry. Cake is pastry. Tarts are pastry. Anything goes in the pastry as long as it’s not too gooey or oily.

By definition, pizza is an Italian creation of flat, oven-baked bread, or piecrust, usually brushed with a tomato sauce, and piled with various toppings and cheese.

Liz Barrett Foster
Liz Barrett Foster

According to Liz Barrett Foster, co-founder of OXFORD FLEA, founder of eatingoxford.com, current editor-at-large for PMQ Pizza Magazine, and author of Pizza. A Slice of American History, we need to shake off our stereotype of Italian tomato-and-cheese pizza pie.

According to Liz, just about any type of sauce and topping will work. She ought to know. She’s judged many pizza competitions. Liz says toppings can be as variable as nuts, honey and dried fruit, or barbecue and slaw! She encourages people to ask local pizzerias and bakeries to sell ready-made dough.


Liz warns that less is more when piling veggies on pizza. The more added, the wetter it will be from all the moisture released during cooking. That’s why I sauteéd the veggies in this dish before piling them onto the pizza dough. These toppings would be terrific ladled over steamed rice!


Two small sweet onions, sliced

1 c fresh baby shiitake mushrooms

2 small zucchini, cubed

2 small yellow squash, cubed

1/2 c sliced green bell pepper (about half of a pepper)

3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T Cavender’s Greek seasoning, plus more to taste

Salt to taste

Refrigerated pizza dough (classic or thin-crust)

14-oz jar of pizza tomato sauce (or homemade)


1/2 c packaged and 1/2 to 1 c grated fresh mozzarella cheese

5-8 pods of okra, halved, OPTIONAL

Olive oil and Creole seasoning, OPTIONAL

Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425˚F. Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and seasonings, Toss to coat completely. Spread evenly in a shallow roasting pan and bake about 30-40 minutes, tossing twice. Drain excess liquid and cool veggies for 10-15 minutes.

Spread out refrigerator pizza dough on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Pierce at intervals with a fork. Spoon and spread a thin layer of jarred pizza sauce evenly over the dough. Spread roasted mixed veggies evenly over the dough. Sprinkle packaged shredded cheese evenly on top, and top with the fresh grated cheese, reserving some.

Roll halved okra pods in olive oil and sprinkle with Creole seasoning. Embellish the pizza with the seasoned pods. Sprinkle additional fresh mozzarella on the okra.

Bake about 30 minutes until cheese is melted and pizza dough is golden brown. Cool slightly before cutting. Sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan.


I used refrigerated whole-wheat pizza dough for this variation. Do not overdo the pesto, which contains a lot of olive oil.


19-oz pkg Italian sweet mild sausage

Refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough

8-oz jar basil pesto (I use Classico)

1/2 to 3/4 c chopped red onion

1 c sliced cherry tomatoes

1-1/2 c chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms


1/4 to 1 c chopped baby spinach leaves

1 to 2 T chopped fresh basil

2 cloves minced garlic

2 roasted red peppers, chopped

2 ears fresh corn, cut (may use leftover boiled corn)

8 oz pkg feta cheese, crumbled, and 2 T divided


1/2 to 3/4 tsp table salt

3 to 4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T apple cider vinegar

Additional whole basil leaves, OPTIONAL

Italian seasoning herbs

Remove casings from the sausage if using links. Brown sausage over medium heat. Drain grease and set aside.

Spray pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll the fridge dough and spread out in the pan. Reform dough until it makes a circle. Pierce at regular intervals with a fork. Spread pesto evenly over surface, using most of the jar’s contents. Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Combine all the veggies and 2 T of feta cheese in a large mixing bowl. Add about half a teaspoon salt (to taste), and add olive oil and vinegar. Toss to blend, like a salad.

Spoon the salad evenly across the pizza dough. Sprinkle rest of the crumbled feta evenly over the salad. Top with a few whole basil leaves, if desired. Lightly sprinkle Italian seasoning herbs on top.

Bake approximately 40 minutes, until pesto is bubbling and cheese is melted. Crust will turn dark from the pesto. Remove and cool slightly before cutting. Forks are required.


Nothing is simpler than slicing and dicing stone fruits, tossing them with a bit of sugar and flavoring, and baking them in a pastry envelope.


2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed

2 to 4 T melted butter

Half a bag of fresh cherries, cut in half and pitted (about 4 c)

4 black plums, peeled and sliced or diced

2 large peaches, peeled and sliced or diced


1/2 to 1 c white granulated sugar, to taste

3/4 tsp almond extract

1 egg, beaten with a splash of water

White granulated sugar

Frozen puff pastry sheets come two to a package. Allow the package to thaw slightly in order to remove the folded pastry sheets. Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Place each sheet on a parchment-lined cookie sheet dusted with flour. Smooth out the creases with wet fingers. Rub melted butter over entire surface of the pastry sheet.

Combine the fruit in a large bowl and toss with sugar and flavoring. Use a slotted spoon to ladle the mixed fruit into the center of each pastry, alternating until all has been mounded equally.

Fold up the corners of the pastry dough, alternately folding up the edges and crimping them together to form an open “bag.” Roll the bag edges toward the fruit. Brush outside of the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake on center rack for about 30-40 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing. Serve with whipped cream.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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