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June 2, 2018

GROWING UP IN LOUISA – Summer is Here!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Now that we’ve passed Decoration/Memorial Day we know summer has begun. In fact, today’s weather forecast is for muggy temperatures in the low nineties. I suppose it is time to delight the world by putting on some summer shorts and showing lots of leg. Well, maybe not. I have been known to show mercy from time to time.

On my way to work the other day I noticed that some of the local farmers had already plowed and planted and neat rows of corn, cotton, and soy beans were ‘sock-high.’ With the rain pouring down from tropical depressions and cold fronts that aren’t, the plants are shooting skyward with utmost dispatch. We will soon enough be biting down on some well-buttered roasting ears. That’s one advantage of having a beard, I suppose. The butter has a harder time running down my chin.    

We are past the day when my wife would be busy washing the canning jars, collecting new lids, and locating the canners in anticipation of harvest. While I have no doubt that ‘home-grown’ is the best eating ever, we have grown older and lack the energies and stamina to face another canning season. There are farmer’s markets about where we can buy a bushel or peck as needed, but I still favor having some fresh tomatoes for the making of summer’s BLT’s. I also love half-runners and Kentucky Wonders together, pick them and let my wife do her magic with a little seasoning. Yum. Our kids and grandkids can eat tons of those with slices of ham, or a baked hen.

When I was growing up I was like most kids and I didn’t care much for my vegetables, On the other hand I remember that my grannie knew just how to season some garden greens, or make a salad with some hot bacon grease and green onions. That may have been bad food by today’s health standards, but boy it was good. On Sundays we usually had chicken, fried in the summer and baked in the winter. During the week we sometimes had pork chops and ground beef, usually used to augment spaghetti sauce, chili, or some gravy or sauces. I remember eating Welsh Rarebit which was melted cheese over toast, sometimes with a thin slice of country ham. Other times were lean and we were lucky to have dried beans, like navy or October beans.

 I remember sitting on our front porch with my great-grandmother and helping her to string garden beans. I can see her now sitting on that metal porch chair in her dress covered with a large, white apron. She would grab a handful of freshly picked beans from a bushel basket and dump them on her apron that covered her lap. She would string them and break them putting the good part in a large bowl that sat on the floor. She taught me how to string them and break them to just the right length. When we were finished she’d hold her apron and walk over to the edge of the porch and shake the strings and lose end into the flower-bed. Well, that was how it was done in those days. We literally through our trash away. At least the beans were biodegradable, eh? Later, when I ate some of those beans they tasted better because I had helped in their preparation.

A cliché that was often used while I was growing up was ‘best thing since sliced bread.’ As a kid, I took that to mean that sliced bread was better than the random cuts of homemade bread. In fact, in the days before serrated knives, homemade bread was hard to slice and not make a mess of everything. If the intent was to make toast, it took even more effort to size the slices just right. Today, I enjoy homemade bread, but the store-bought has its place, too. I guess settling on one thing or another in life deprives us of the best in some cases. It all has its place and we deserve to enjoy progress. The deal is figuring out what is real progress and what isn’t. For example, I enjoy the wonderful smells of fresh baked bread and the taste of fresh melted butter soaking into the heart of the slice. Even way back then, I remembered to take a hunk of bread and dip it into sorghum or honey. But for sandwiches, or to quickly mop up some gravy, there’s so many other kinds of bread that can add to the experience.

Late spring is also strawberry time. Who can doubt that strawberry picking, putting up jam or jellies, or spooning some on shortcake is an experience worth having. Kids, all with sticky faces and fingers squeal in delight as they spread on the butter and jam on a muffin or toast. A glass of milk and maybe a damp dishrag makes it all worthwhile. These are the kinds of moments that build memories and remind us seasonally, that good times are at hand.   

Many of us remember that during the wars of our childhood the government encouraged families to plant victory gardens. These gardens literally fed America while the commercial foods were canned and sent for the troops in the field. Some were larger than others and some families were better at choosing the right varieties of seed, but when properly done, they fed us well. I once wrote about the canning shed that was set up behind the old LHS bookstore. I was young then, but I remember seeing the steam rise from the commercial canners. Everyone was putting up food. I have no idea if it was a food-drive of some kind, or merely a time to share the canning equipment for the family pantry. Someone reading this may remember.   

I remember a number of those gardens that were sprinkled around the town, but so much more out where people had space. I know that High Bottom was full of gardens, as were many of the farms I saw as I traveled up and down the Big Sandy. I saw them in Webville, Lomansville, Buchannan, and Fallsburg. Smokey Valley had them on their rolling hills, and the Point with its flatter land was loaded with them. I saw them out toward Blaine, Catlettsburg, Potters, and Walbridge and all about. They were everywhere because Kentuckians know how to eat. I still know how and try to practice it daily. It’s no wonder that Harlan Saunders made good chicken.

Summertime is slow and easy, but it is also a time to eat. Usually, summer eating is lighter with salads, lighter desserts, and an iced drink. We had sweet-tea, but for lunch I often had Kool-Aid. Pop pulled from the freezing waters of the old drink machines hit the spot, but so did that drink from a gourd next to the well. I’m think it’s time to find a hammock, fold a magazine over my chest and close my eyes. See you next week.

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Comments  

0 #1 Bernard 2018-06-07 14:01
Great article Mike, Yep nothing like those summer veggies, I love them, even to this day I really eat a lot of veggies. I don't dislike any, as long as it's a veggie, I'll eat it. White Half-runner beans, Ox Heart tomatoes, or maybe Mortgage Lifters, Arkansas Travelers, Or a Big Stripy , WOW makes a great BLT as you noted, also nothing like a fried bologna, with lettuce, tomatoe and mayo, WOW, good eats. Also love a batch of collards cooked with a ham hock and a skillet of cornbread, I could go on forever. But just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this one, tons of great memories of my younger days. Keep them coming, God Bless and as always, "Thanks for the memories."
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