I grew up in “Sextonville.” My grandparents lived on one side and my Aunt Jean and Uncle Carl lived on the other. Aunt Gaye Gaye and Uncle Tommy were behind us; my Aunt Pete lived on the other side of my grandparents, and my Aunt Emma and Uncle Sanford lived next door to her. And so on and so on.
It was hard to get lonesome when you grow up surrounded by extended family, and I enjoyed spending days going from house to house visiting. I would dust my grandmother’s furniture, pick flowers with my Aunt Pete, enjoy homemade fudge at Gaye Gaye’s, and tell Aunt Jean about all the books I had read that week.
We were all connected by property lines as well as the neighborhood vegetable garden, planted and maintained by my grandfather, the best tomato grower in five counties. He grew everything from sweet corn to butter beans to okra to several types of peppers. He grew just one type of tomato though, the Big Boy variety, and they were so juicy and acidic – the perfect sandwich tomato.
My sisters and I were designated garden pickers. Most days, Momma would instruct us to go out and pick vegetables needed for dinner that evening – tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, bell peppers, and even the occasional okra harvest, which we hated because the stalks were itchy.
My mother and grandmother picked butterbeans and purple hull peas, and my sisters and I would help with the shelling. Butterbeans made your thumbs hurt, and purple hulls left your hands looking bruised.
Eating fresh from the garden can’t be beat. Nothing tastes better than a vegetable pulled from the sunshine and served immediately on a plate. There are no chemicals, no preservatives, and no waxy polish.
But it is much easier to visit the store and buy produce in the air conditioning. My grandfather worked in his garden every single day, getting up before dawn to beat the heat, and digging at weeds or harvesting the day’s bounty.
Most people these days don’t have the time and energy to plant a large vegetable garden every summer. Between youth sports, vacations, school camps, summer camps, and the day-to-day grind, people don’t have two to three hours a day to grow their own food – I know we don’t. I didn’t even get around to planting a couple of tomato plants in pots on the patio to keep me stocked on tomato sandwiches this summer. Thankfully, several local farmers sell their wares around the community.
If you are one that has planted a vegetable garden this year, some of my favorite recipes can help you take your harvest from farm to table.
I love a tomato sandwich – white bread, tomato, and Blue Plate mayonnaise only, with a dash of salt. I’ll add bacon if I’m feeling particularly sassy.
I also love tomatoes for breakfast on a homemade biscuit with sausage, and nothing beats a fried egg with a runny yolk eaten with sliced tomatoes.
Mrs. Mildred Fondren made tomato pie, and it tasted like summer. Although Mrs. Mildred made a homemade pie shell, a store-bought shell from the refrigerated section would work just fine. Mrs. Mildred also didn’t use a recipe, she just sliced and stirred and arranged everything in a pie shell, producing the most delicious tomato pie ever.
This is a recipe I found on Pinterest by House of Nash that seems pretty close to what Mrs. Mildred made.
1 unbaked pie crust
4-5 tomatoes, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the tomatoes and lay on the paper towels in a single layer, then sprinkle with the salt to draw out the tomato juices. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, then pat-dry the tomatoes and remove excess juice.
Roll out pie crust and stretch it over a pie plate. Crimp the edges and poke holes in the bottom of the crust with fork. Pre-bake the crust for 10 minutes
While the crust bakes, combine the basil, green onion, and garlic in a bowl and stir. In a separate bowl, combine the mozzarella cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and season with freshly-ground black pepper. Stir to combine.
When the pie crust has baked for 10 minutes, layer half of the tomatoes on the bottom of the crust, then sprinkle with half of the basil-onion mixture. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining basil-onion mixture. Spread the cheese mixture over the top of the pie.
Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees, then return the pie to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, uncovered, until the cheese begins to get lightly brown on top. Let rest for 10 minutes, then slice and serve warm.
In the past couple of years, cauliflower has become the new “it” vegetable. I’ve seen everything from pizza crust to cookies made with cauliflower “rice” or finely grated cauliflower. I haven’t tried those, frankly, the idea of using cauliflower to make dessert is just not normal to me. However, roasted cauliflower is so good, I can enjoy it as a snack.
1 head of cauliflower, washed and broken into small florets
Olive oil (I use the aerosol spray)
Salt and pepper
Shaved parmesan cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Scatter cauliflower florets over the bottom of a cookie sheet. Spritz with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until floret edges turn golden. Sprinkle with shaved parmesan and serve warm.
My mother made the best zucchini bread when I was little. In fact, I didn’t know there was another way to eat zucchini but as a bread. Now people are making chips and deep fried sticks and noodles with zucchini, but if you haven’t had old fashioned zucchini bread, give it a try. It gives banana nut bread a run for its money.
2 cups sugar
1 cups oil
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
3 cups flour
2 cups peeled and grated zucchini
Cream eggs, sugar, and oil. Then mix in the remaining ingredients. Add zucchini. Mix and pour into two
loaf pans lined with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes or when knife comes out clean.