August, skin burning hot, beach needy days when crops are bursting with treasures. I’m biased because I’m August born, but I like to think I’d feel the same, no matter my birthday.
I grew up in a family with a sprawl of kids, living next door to my grandparents’ farm, which meant that my father had enough land to plant a huge garden to feed us. It was only about a decade after WWII, he was struggling to run his own auto service station, his dream job, and my mother was…mothering. In the summer, the fact that money was short never occurred to me as the table was piled high with the goodness of the garden, the same garden that I and my siblings were required to help weed every day. Two acres of tilled, red-brown Connecticut River Valley earth, a hen house of layers and ultimately stew chickens, and an orchard of apples, pears, cherries and peaches were our farm to table. Without them, we would have been hungry. I’ve no doubt about it.
When strawberries hit, my mother would make a massive shortcake and cut up quarts of berries, whip fresh cream stolen from the top of the milk from a local dairy. And that would be dinner. Ditto, green beans, piled high and seasoned with diced bacon. Dinner. Looking back, I tell people that by the end of the summer, we had a balanced meal, heavy on the veggies. It wasn’t just supper, lunches were tomato sandwiches of white bread and a smear of mayo; or cucumber, also mayo. Fall held its own bounty of potatoes, pumpkins, root vegetables–but that’s another story.
My favorite meal, except for the shortcake, was corn and cucumbers. Us kids who weeded the rows also shucked corn that my father brought to us in a wooden bushel basket. Dozens of ears. The classic recommendation of picking and throwing it in the pot—that was the way we ate it. No roasting, no Mexican seasonings, not even steaming. A massive pot of boiling water, quick cook. Pure and simple. I was happy with lots of pepper and some salt and could skip the butter. And a side of cucumbers doused in apple cider vinegar, again with the salt and pepper. I would finish off a half dozen ears; my father could eat a dozen.
I would finish off a half dozen ears; my father could eat a dozen.