Growing up in the South, August would arrive hot, humid and sticky. Wonderful for toffee pudding; not so great for 31 days of weather. Kitchen stoves across the bible belt would power down in an effort to keep the house cooler. Not all of us had those fancy air conditioning boxes in our window. What we did have were lots of ceiling fans and the resolve to NOT slave over a hot stove for one unbearably hot month.
My family moved alot. Alot. To the tune of usually every 6 months. I tried telling my hippy parents that there were scientific reports that children need a stable childhood surrounding by familiar and safe environments. That was the July we moved into an old farmhouse in Charlotte NC and ran our own roadside vegetable stand. An early pioneer of the sustainable, eat local movement at the ripe age of 12. It took a few weeks to build our stand, find our vendors and then find trust with the potential motorists on the road who needed fresh veggies. One very clever way to do this was to stick a 12 yr old girl and 5 yr old boy on the edge of the road holding signs for $1.00 Sweet Corn and Peaches. Lopsided braids and a one size too big sundress paired with a snotty nosed, cloth diaper wearing toddler seemed to be the recipe for tugging heart strings of passing cars.
August arrived. The old farmhouse broke out in a sweat and the ceiling fans moved in slow motion; cutting through the thick Southern humidity. Even nightfall didn’t seem to persuade the breeze or a wayward wind to come around for a visit. A still fell. Even rocking the chair on the front porch seemed too great an effort.
Mom and I made iced tea and fresh lemonade. Cooking dinner seemed an insurmountable task, especially after a long day of street side veggie slinging. We had to get up at 4am to pick up the fresh produce in order to be open for business by 7am. If we were lucky, we had sold out by 4. If not, it meant whatever was left …was dinner.
However this particular August holds some of my fondest food memories to this day. Every night Mom would thinly slice heirloom tomatoes in shades of grass green, sunset orange, ruby red and sunflower yellow. The thin slices were unceremoniously layered on a plate and given a generous sprinkle of salt. That’s it.
I can still taste them.
Next came corn. The most tender, sweet buttery corn on the cob you can imagine. It ain’t called sweet corn for nothing! That came served with a stick of butter. I am not kidding. We each took turn getting to roll our corn on the butter stick. I always wanted to be last because the butter had gone melty soft with the hot corn cobs. More salt applied and mmm. A hush fell over the table as butter dripped off our chins and we gnawed away at these glorious kernels. I can still taste it.
Baby Red Potatoes. Whole. Boiled in salted water. Drained. Tossed with olive oil, butter and fresh herbs. Dolloped with sour cream. I can still taste them.
That was dinner in August. Just as predictable as the oppressive heat, arriving with the rising sun, and air so thick we could have cut and sold slices off to Alaska. I was 12, it sounded like a good idea. I was an entrepreneur in the making.
Lunchtime. We would wander back to the droopy farmhouse. Mom would slice homemade fresh-baked whole grain bread. More tomato slices. A slather of mayo, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. No B. No L. No fancy remoulade or homemade ketchup. There was tangy Lemonade to wash it down. I can still …yeah you know.
August came and went like many more to follow. There were other tomato sandwiches and ears of corn. I fell in and out of love with other vegetables. I sit here at my computer on a hot sticky humid night in Brooklyn, with a ceiling fan overhead that sounds like a lawn mower on its last legs. I hear the cycads in the trees. Or are those tree roaches? Hmmm. I close my eyes and am on that farmhouse front porch. I see fireflies dancing across the lawn and in the woods.
I am tasting those in season local vegetables, heavy hand salted and served with the love of a hippy Mom who knew that stable safe environments don’t hold a candle to adventure, change and a generous sprinkle of salt.