Monday, July 02, 2007

Good Eats

Although I love autumn and the smells and the fairs and football, and the first cool nights and the sky full of stars, and although summer in Memphis is generally a miserable affair, with the smothering heat and the humidity and the dim endless nights and the mosquitoes and the grass that always needs mowing, I do love summer for the food - the fresh vegetables and fruits.

By early spring I am usually sick to death of weak, tasteless grocery store produce, and that combined with my inherited horticultural gene usually induces me to plant a garden, but this year I decided to restrain myself because we were planning to move and I didn't want to do all that work just some so stranger could enjoy my tomatoes. But alas, the move hasn't happened and I am gardenless for the first time in almost a decade.

Luckily, I have parents who grow a garden, and I still live close enough to the country to get out and find a fruit stand sometimes. This past weekend being the perfect example, we drove down Highway 72 toward Mt. Pleasant and found a man and his watermelons and peaches. The peaches were tiny, smaller than plums, but good heavens were they good! And the watermelon!

The same day, my mother brought us a mess of green beans and a bag of peas, five ears of sweet corn, and some peppers and tomatoes. I've canned 19 quarts of her green beans already this year.

I also finally broke down and splurged on an organic, free-range chicken. I had begun to fret of late over the declining quality of my fried chicken and feared I had lost my touch. Alas, it was not my touch at fault, as I discovered last night. That lovely but expensive bird tasted as I remembered fried chicken used to taste.

So for Sunday dinner we had fried chicken, fresh peas, fresh green beans, fresh sweet corn, fresh cucumber and fresh tomatoes and fresh peppers. The peas were simply divine - I'm glad I was able to rediscover (through trial and error) my grandmother's lost recipe for peas. And as they say in Deliverence, I love good corn.

Mama Crook's Peas

First of all, these are not the peas you're thinking of. Generally, these are purple hull peas or some other kind of field peas, not your green or English peas, and certainly not black-eyed peas, which are foul seeds that taste like cigarette ashes. Purple hull pea vines grow low to the ground, though I did grow vines one year that came up to my waist and we didn't want to pick them for fear of snakes.

Shell your peas (or buy them shelled), wash them, and put them in a pot with enough water to cover by an inch or so. Add a half-slice of thick bacon or salt pork, a tablespoon of salt and three tablespoons of sugar, then cook that bitch til she's done. The sugar is the key. Without sugar, your pea will taste like shit.

Daddy Crook used to love the pot liquor. He'd crumble corn bread over his plate and pour the liquor over the bread. This is a good way to not waste any of it, because it's too good to waste. You know what they say about boiling vegetables boils all the nutrients out? The nutrients are still there - in the liquid. That's why old country folk love their pot liquor.

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