Sunday, December 9, 2012

Somehow... I'm Thinking About Summer Foods...

It’s Saturday morning and I hear our chihuahua, Peanut, barking with mini-canine wild & happy abandon in the little “mudroom” entryway from our carport.  Although it’s the other side of our rambling South Carolina brick ranch house, I can hear my grandmother’s merry laugh and the sounds of Mommas’ weekend things and crackling sacks of groceries being carried into the kitchen.

At this point I contentedly stretch, lie back in the cool sheets and smile to myself.

The weekends that Mommas – our mother’s mother - spent with us were always the best.  They were full of mouth-watering smells issuing from the kitchen and – if it was summer time - lighthearted conversation in the den mingling with the sounds of a southern summer night drifting in through the open screened door to our back yard where gardenias perfumed air in the waning heat.

Freshly baked biscuits would tug me unresisting from bed and I would wander into the kitchen to be hugged and kissed by Mommas.  The smell of Ponds cold cream scenting her cheek and a soft floral bath powder fragrance in her crisp cotton dress was always a reminder that there are places in the world that can be soft, peaceful and brimming with acceptance.

Quite possibly a basket of sun-ripened peaches would scent the morning air if Mommas and Mother had found the time to make a visit to the farmer’s market and there would be a bowl of deep burnished ruby red tomatoes.  Mommas might already have cucumbers sliced to immerse in a sharp combination of onion bits, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper.

A pan of cut corn would already be shaved from newly-purchased ears and simmering in a pan on the stove where they would be stirred into creamed corn to heap on the fluffy biscuits and the pressure cooker would be trembling on its stovetop eye filled with Kentucky wonders.

Our Saturday lunch would be made up of these delights but they would eventually find their way the next day into a sublime Sunday lunch.  Slipping into comfortable clothes after church and stepping back into the kitchen my mouth would water at the smell of fried chicken heaped on a heavy crockery plate and feather light chicken gravy being ladled into our old weathered gray gravy boat.

I regret to say that I didn’t pitch into assisting this intense kitchen culinary activity.  Mother and Mommas had it down to a science that was best viewed from a stool at the kitchen counter where I could watch the stirring, slicing and Mommas’ skilled “pinch of sugar” that she swore made everything taste better.

I loved that spectator seat as it was often rewarded with a buttered biscuit half, a frosty glass of sweet tea with a mint sprig and a stolen glimpse of the fresh peach cobbler growing a deep golden brown in the oven.  Mother and Mommas managed to fill a table with a flower-aproned grace that looked easy but was the stuff produced by years of experience turning summer gardens into provisions that both sustain and delight.

The women of their generations made simple fare wonderful!  During the Depression when money was scarce or WWII when rations were severe, Southern women took the produce of hot, dusty summer gardens and stretched them into full tables and happy family stomachs and somehow managed to additionally put up enough of their harvest to fill out cold & dark winter suppers.  The current Fresh Market & Whole Foods generation has variety that is marvelous and varied but the perfection of simplicity and the ability to work with what was local and fresh was a talent that the Southern woman had honed into a delicious art form.

Did I know these things as I lifted a forkful of rice & creamy chicken gravy to my mouth or speared savory green beans, making sure that I included a wedge of small potato cooked in their pork-flavored depths?

No.  But I knew that I loved the cooks!  And still do.

Auntie J

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