Hot summer has exploded in our hills with the force of a Fourth of July firecracker, with hot days and humid nights and resulting thunderstorms. Sun-loving wildflowers flourish, such as the brilliant orange day lilies and black-eyed Susans. The blue chicory flowers are beginning to appear, while the common daisies are beginning to fade. The hot sunshine and frequent rains have the gardens flourishing also, with the squash vines producing prolifically.
Black raspberry vines are burdened with their delicious fruit, while the blackberries are turning red on their vines. Will we have a blackberry summer? According to folklore, if it rains on the 8th of June (or is it the 2nd?) the berries will not produce a good crop. Elderberry bloom is abundant this year, so the country housewife should have plenty of berries for jam and jelly.
The dewberries, which vine along the ground, are beginning to ripen. We used to scour the road bank for these early berries, sometimes gleaning a cupful for our breakfast cereal. They are more tart than blackberries, which ripen later. Dewberries will ever be reminiscent of scratched legs, summer sun and childhood.
We are blessed this year in having an abundant crop of black raspberries, which yielded several jars of freezer jam. Store-bought jams and jellies can never compare with the delectable spreads made from the wild berries that grow in our own hills. Mom used to make “quick jam” for breakfast, which was simply well-sweetened berries thickened with cornstarch and eaten hot with butter and biscuits. We called it “blackberry flummery” and ate gallons of it. It was one of our favorite foods for breakfast.
It has always been a source of pride to have fresh vegetables from the garden for the Fourth of July, but with the erratic spring weather, some of them are not going to make it. There are tiny potatoes in the hill, but too small yet to gravel. We love the wee new potatoes creamed with cornstarch and milk, and liberally seasoned with butter, salt and pepper. Mom really creamed them when I was a kid, with rich cow cream, thick and sweet, and fresh-churned butter. Sometimes she would throw in a handful of fresh peas, which made them doubly good.
With all the good things that summer has to offer, she sometimes has another face. Harmful insects don’t seem to be as plentiful this year as usual, although I have spied several Japanese beetles lately. They are attracted to my roses and hollyhocks, and it is a never-ending battle to fight them. My late friend Freda swore by guineas as pest exterminators, she was telling her oncologist one day that guineas would rid his flowerbeds of Japanese beetles and never harm the flowers. He looked at her doubtfully and replied, “Well, I’ve never gone in for livestock. Do you have to tie them up?”
Another downside of summer is the fierce thunderstorms that follow hot, humid days. Although I revel in an approaching storm, they can be dangerous and threatening when the heavens unleash their fury. I haven’t always exulted in a thunderstorm, however. When I was a kid in grade school, lightning struck a big oak tree right outside a bank of windows in the school house. It seemed that the lightning and thunder occurred simultaneously, a ball of fire came out of a receptacle and rolled down an aisle between two rows of seats, and we were all shocked and screaming. For years after, whenever a thunderstorm occurred, we would huddle around Mom in fear. To watch one approach, however, is to witness the mighty power of God when He strides the heavens in His majesty.
Since squash is in season, we have a recipe sent to us some time ago from Anna Lee Bane of So. Charleston. She added, “This is so good!”
1 lb sliced yellow squash
1 onion, chopped
Cook until tender; add 2 tablespoons butter or margarine. Mix 3 tablespoons flour in 1 cup of milk; add to squash. Add 1 cup shredded American cheese (she uses Velveeta.) Mix together and put in 2 quart baking dish. Top with ½ cup bread crumbs mixed with 1 tablespoon melted butter.
Bake uncovered for 20 minutes at 350.
June Cox sent a recipe for very good zucchini bread. Seems as if once zucchini starts producing, it is easy to get overloaded with it. This is a good way to use some of the surplus.
2 cups shredded zucchini
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
¾ cup shredded carrots
Mix all together; add 3 cups flour. If using self-rising flour, add a pinch of baking soda. Stir in 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon cloves. Add 1 cup chopped black walnuts. Mix well, bake in 2 greased loaf pans at 325 degrees for approximately 1 hour. Test for doneness–may need to bake a little longer.
I found a letter from an anonymous reader from Virginia recalling some of the old-timey methods of making jams and jellies. She wrote. “Back in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, we made jams, jellies and preserves out of many fruits to have “spread” to go on our delicious buttered biscuits for our school lunch. We toted it in a #3 lard pail to school (each kid had their own pail.) We went to all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse with a pot-bellied stove in the center.
“Mama would add some tart apples to her huckleberry jam so the pectin in the apples would make it jell. I well remember picking huckleberries to sell for 25 cents per gallon, out of which the peddler who took them to town took five cents. We made 80 cents for eight hours work. We had to have the money to order from the Montgomery Ward catalog –material to make dressed, shirts, slips and bloomers on the old Singer treadle sewing machine.”
And this was the good old days?”