“A Taste of Summer Seasoned with Love,” column for Sept. 1, 2015

Summer is slipping like beach sand through my fingers and I find myself thinking of summers in my childhood, thunderstorms and lightning bugs and sunsets that linger like the smile on the face of someone you love. But most of all, the food.

A global marketplace makes it possible to eat most anything, anytime of year, especially if you live, as I do, in a city like Las Vegas, where world class restaurants demand fresh fish and meat and produce flown in daily in or out of season.

There’s nothing like food that’s grown locally and eaten fresh. Not even close. But at the grocery store _ in a desert, of all places _ I marvel at all that’s available from around the world, fresh or flash-frozen.

Last night I made vegetable ceviche (corn off the cob, cherry tomatoes, green onions, garlic, nectarines and cilantro all marinated in lime juice and salt) and served it ice cold, along with scallops that I sauteed in shallots and a whole lot of butter.

Never mind the details. I just threw it all together, tasting as I went. It was good, if I do say so myself. My husband said so, too, but he says that anytime I cook.

And yet, as good and summer tasting as it was, it didn’t satisfy my hunger for summer. Only two recipes do that for me. I ate them both for lunch today, well seasoned with memories of my grandmothers.

I’ll tell you how to prepare them in your own kitchen (or as I did once, in the back of a Volkswagen bus between two squirrely children while driving across country in a hailstorm.) But first, let me tell you about the memories.

Growing up, my favorite place on Earth was always with either of my grandmothers.

My dad’s mother lived on a farm in the mountains, where she grew vegetables in a garden that was probably what God had in mind when he planted Eden. I visited her often and did lots of things: Waded in the creek, read in the hay loft, chased cows in the pasture and got lost. I was good at getting lost.

But my favorite thing was to gather vegetables from her garden _ one vegetable in particular. I’d pick the best I could find. Then I’d take it inside and she’d turn it into my all-time favorite summer lunch.

My mother’s mother lived in a small town where she knew every soul who passed her porch, where they’d been, what they bought and how much they paid for it. I visited her often and did lots of things: Played checkers with my granddad, read in the porch swing, chased cousins and got stung by wasps. I was good at getting stung.

But my favorite thing was to pull a wagon up the road to Smith’s Grocery and bring back a treat my grandmother would call ahead to order just for me. She’d send me off with a warning (“Don’t you dare get run over”) and stand by the road to watch me up and back. Then we’d take the treat inside and she’d turn it into my all-time favorite summer dessert.

OK, here are the recipes. First, “My Grandmama Case’s Tomato Sandwich”: Slather two slices of white bread with a lot of mayo. Slice a really good tomato, give it a few shakes of salt, stack it all up and try to eat it slowly.

And “My Grandmama Wilde’s Best Summer Dessert”: Cut a big ripe watermelon in half. Eat the first half with a spoon. Eat the second half if you can. Then wash yourself off with a hose.

Recipes don’t get much simpler. But there are two essential “secret” ingredients: The women who served them up just for me. Who listened as I talked and smiled as I ate and turned a simple taste into an unforgettable memory.

Those are my favorite tastes of summer. What are yours? Make them soon for yourself and someone you love. Add your own secret ingredients. And then send me the recipes.

But hurry. Before you know it, we’ll be hungry for a taste of fall.

Comments

  1. Nancy Durein says:

    My favorite memory was when Mr. Kimmel, who grew corn on a vacant lot around the corner, would wander around the neighborhood in the morning, wanting to know how many ears we wanted for dinner that night. My mother would already have the water boiling when he arrived late afternoon with corn not more than 30″ off the stalk. THAT was fresh corn!!!!!

  2. Jennifer Jordan says:

    Hi Sharon! This is Jim and Sandy Jordan’s daughter, Jennifer. Torie Thacher just forwarded your lovely column to me–it struck a chord! I just published a book in April called “Edible Memory”, which opens with memories of my great great aunt’s kitchen and garden up in Sonora, before I go on to the other chapters of the book that focus specifically on heirloom tomatoes, antique apples, and the like. The comments above also ring true, and many people have told me wonderful stories of their own edible memories over the years. Thanks for sharing these recipes 🙂 and I’m glad Torie sent your column to me! If you want to know more about the book, there was a little interview with me on the NPR website last week: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/04/437268810/why-are-we-drawn-to-heirloom-fruits-and-veggies-theyre-edible-memory

  3. Sharon says:

    When I was eight, we visited my aunt in Michigan and she introduced me to toasted tomato sandwiches for breakfast. Toasted white bread, sweet butter, sliced tomatoes and salt. But it only works with tomatoes right out of the garden. From that summer on, that was my go-to summer breakfast. Even if I had to grown them in pots on my apartment patio, I grew tomatoes for summer sandwiches. Next year, I hope to grow them in my new raised bed garden in my new backyard.

  4. cynthia says:

    My favorite memory of summer was the incredible aroma of the family’s recipe for chili sauce. My dad had the job of grinding the 1/2 bushel of fresh tomatoes (that had been scalded and skinned) with bunches of green peppers and onions. Then Mom added vinegar and brown sugar and cinnamon sticks, salt and some other spices into a HUGE heavy pot and it would simmer for hours on end. It filled the whole neighborhood with the most enticing fragrance. Once it thickened, it was poured into sterilized jars and stored in our cool basement. It was wonderful all by itself with breaded pork chops or scrambled eggs but it also made the most amazing barbeque sauce.

  5. My happy summer memories were grilling delicious hamburgers or steaks. After dinner we either had watermelon or drove to get soft serve ice cream. The best treat ever. I loved chocolate. Two other simple sandwiches were peanut butter with jelly and bananas. The second one was eating white bread with american cheese and sweet pickle slices.

  6. Adelita Willis says:

    Pomegranites! My mom and dad planted these hardy bushes alternating evergreen trees around our entire side orchard. In early September when they turn lovely colors of red and gold, Mom would pick them and cut one open for my sister and I. The red ones are tart; the gold ones are sweet. Regardless of which one we picked, the sweetness in each kernel explodes in your mouth. Then with such patience, later in the week Mom would pluck as many kernels as necessary, crush them to extract the juice, strain the juice and place it in the refrigerator. When we would find it, she would serve us each in small juice glasses. Heaven! Many years later, she did the same for her grandchildren. The joy at seeing my son enjoy my childhood treat from the hands of my mother still brings me joy.

  7. Vanessa L says:

    This really took me back a few years! One of my mother’s favorite things was a tomato sandwich (with Miracle Whip instead of mayo). My husband tells me one of his favorite summer foods is a warm tomato straight off the plant, so being a good wife I make that for him every chance I get.

  8. My favorite summer treat was just one of the simple pleasures in life. First I helped my grandma pick peas from her garden, and I remember sitting on her back porch and we would she’ll those peas. But the big reward was for her to cook them up and make cream peas. Those were the days.

  9. Alice Anderson says:

    Dearie, a simple southern dish, Fried Corn. Shuck as many ears as diners. Use a sharp knife and cut just the tips into a bowl. Next use the back side of the sturdy knife and rake ( in Tenn. we said ‘milk the corn) and remove all the good stuff from top to bottom of the ear into the bowl of tips.
    Add salt and pepper as preferred. Get out that old cast iron skillet and use butter to fry the corn until the starch in the corn thickens the corn to preferred consistence. You can use some bacon bits before frying. One of the things I appreciate about Fried Corn is, the remaining outside of the grains remain on the cob instead of between your teeth!

  10. shashi says:

    Oh ,my God !I laughed reading your recipe .How you explain it ,makes it even more delicious .
    Here is mine . First make tomato soup ,then boil corn into it ,cutting into small pieces along with inside part ,do not know what it is called let it be corn heads without ears . when tender remove from flame . Let it cool down .
    Eat only grains soaked into soup add little more sauce with black pepper on corn pieces . It is heavenly delicious . But we cannot eat with fork . We have to eat with hands one by one and I made sure to cut my nails before dipping them into soup and washed my hands very good as well . I made only two pieces so it was easy to hold in my hands . I needed full hand towel to clean my mouth covered with juice of tomatoes dripping from corn . Hope you had seen me but I enjoyed each bit of it and my plate had only two pieces of hard body of corn .I still feel little bit hesitant to post this comment and contains some language errors . English is my second language but I made sure that the recipe is very delicious and correct before putting that into words .

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