Vegetables. I wasn't a fan. Under duress and my parents' watchful eyes, I would take a bite of green beans and shiver as it went down. And I thought for sure that squash would be the death of me.
Back then, only two vegetable dishes made my tastebuds happy: mashed potatoes and tomato sandwiches. We had a wide variety of fresh, colorful vegetables on our table throughout the summer. My grandmother had a garden the size of a softball field without a back fence, or so it seemed to me. Vegetable plants as far as my eyes could see.
My mother, sister, and uncle would help her hoe, weed, fight bugs, and whatever else one does in a garden while Papa and I stayed inside. I was too young to help, Papa was too old, and Dad was at work.
I confess I didn't mind staying in the air-conditioned house with a bona fide excuse to watch game shows on TV and drink Coca-Cola. I'm pretty sure I felt sorry for my sister, but of course I didn't tell her that.
So Mom, Bama (my grandmother), Uncle Benny, and Donna would work and toil, toil and work in the summer sun and humidity. Around noon, they'd come in hot, sweaty, and tired with baskets of still-warm vegetables, including big, red tomatoes.
Within a few minutes, Mom and Bama would cut into those tomatoes and make sandwiches for all of us who wanted them. Which was all of us. White bread, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and tomatoes so juicy they'd drip on the plate.
It was the sandwich of my childhood. And it was soooo good.
After lunch, Mom, Donna, and I would head home with a trunkful of the day's pickings.
Now, it may not surprise you, but I never took to gardening. However, to the chagrin of my childhood self, I did become a semi-vegetarian and began to long for the yummy goodness of food fresh from the garden. I understood then and appreciated the blessing from God that Bama's garden had been to our family.
And in the suburbs where we lived, home-grown tomatoes were hard to find.
One summer day when my daughter was little, I took her to a small, local farmer's market. There, we saw tomatoes of every size and color and shade: red, pink, orange, yellow, green. Little "chocolate" cherry tomatoes. Yellow ones, too, shaped like tiny squashes. Small green ones for frying. And big, beautiful, misshapen heirlooms the size of my hand.
The farmer spent several minutes explaining the characteristics of each color and type of tomato. Honestly, I had no idea there was such variety! I bought two heirlooms, a green one, a container of assorted colors of cherry tomatoes, and, because I couldn't resist, a bouquet of pink and purple wildflowers.
At dinnertime, when I sliced into one of the heirlooms, the earthy scent was released into the air, and the juice ran onto my fingers. I was taken back to those summers of my childhood when I watched with anticipation as my mother cut a tomato--the juice running down her fingers, over her shiny gold wedding band before she slid the red slices onto a plain white plate.
What foods do you associate with summer? Did you have special summer dishes or treats when you were growing up? Did your family have a garden? I'd love to know. Comment below.
Photo courtesy of GraphicStock.
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