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A Taste of July

Sometimes when things are hectic, and even grim, heavy with solemn news of tragedies around the world, it’s good to take a deep breath and think on lighter subjects, like the taste of good things. God didn’t have to give us our senses. Have you ever considered that? But He did. He gave us sight, hearing, feeling, and the wonderful joy of smelling and tasting. And I think He smiles when we delight in these gifts from Him.

So–speaking of taste–if someone asked you what you taste when you think of months like November or December you’d readily reply with words such as “turkey,” “fruitcake,” “pumpkin pie,” “orange zest,” “peppermint,” or even “snow cream.” The taste for February? Maybe red velvet cake, Earl Grey tea and Brunswick stew on a cold drizzly day. But July? What are the tastes you think of for July?

Tastes and smells are so interrelated that we can hardly separate them, I think. So the first taste of July that I think of is a grilled hamburger with the aroma of charcoal on a humid afternoon as part of the taste. Imagine a good, juicy hamburger thick with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, dripping with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, or whatever your choices of those condiments are. The taste may even give you the sensation of ketchup dripping from your chin. And, of course, along with the taste is that wonderful feeling of relaxing with friends and family, being secure in one’s favorite part of the world.

Or consider watermelon. On this taste it’s hard to remove the visual from the taste. Watermelon slices are so festive and beautiful! But think of the taste, maybe at a picnic table in the middle of a hot afternoon. Do you want salt on it? Do you need a fork? Or do you just love watermelon all by itself with your face in it? Do you take the seeds out first, or dive in and taste that sweetness spitting the seeds out as you go? Ahhh, the taste of watermelon heart as soon as the melon’s been cracked open. That’s the best!

The taste of ice cream–now just try that one! Maybe butter pecan, rocky road, strawberry, peach, chocolate, or–even just plain vanilla. Get it in a cone and walk down the street licking as fast as you can to get every delicious slurp before it runs down your arm!

What about all those wonderful vegetables? There’s corn on the cob fresh from the pot with butter drizzling down the rows of kernels. Here’s another one you smell before you taste, first the fresh green shucks as you prepare it and then that unmatchable scent of corn boiling on the stove. That is pure July!

Have you had pan fried okra this year? Prepared from perfect tender pods of okra straight from the Open Air Market in Cairo, Georgia? Pan fried is our way to do okra, sliced thin, dusted with flour and fried in very shallow (healthy) oil. Cook it until it’s almost burned. It’s crisp and wonderful! Serve it with sliced tomatoes, your favorite meatloaf and some fresh field peas.

Don’t get me started on yellow, crookneck squash. There is really no better taste in this world than squash cooked fresh from the garden. My mother used to cook about a peck, I think, every day when so many of the ten of us were still at home. She stewed them and mashed them to a pulp and we ate every bit of it every day. No matter how I butter, salt, pepper, or not, no squash I cook is as good as Mamma’s was. But it is still pretty delicious!

The taste of July–salty sweat, a green sourwood leaf (not to digest, just to chew, as sour as the name says), fresh peach cobbler steaming hot, fried green tomatoes, eggplant casserole, small fried catfish, cantaloupe from Papa Graham’s garden, zipper peas and cornbread. And don’t forget the taste of warm figs picked and eaten at the laden tree with crows fussing because they think it’s their tree. And don’t forget the taste of the sea as you walk a beach, the taste of rain that suddenly cools a sizzling day, and the taste of a crushed mint leaf.

How many tastes would you like to add to my list? Feel free! And, better still, go ahead and really taste them! And remember God delights in our joy.

“O, taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalm 34:8

P.S. This is not an anti-diet blog, just a taste spree!



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Mamma’s Fried Okra

Mamma always had a crowd to feed. By the time the oldest ones of we ten flew the coop, they started returning home with friends and then with spouses and then with children. There were always so many of us that we left nothing in the pot at the end of a meal. Or, in the case of okra, no nibbles in the bowl.

Picking, or cutting, okra was a very itchy job. We were given gloves to wear and long sleeves. But I never could bear to wear gloves and I hung the extra shirt on a sourwood limb as soon as I was out of sight of the house. Grasping the okra pods, conscious to leave the tiny tender ones until the next day, we’d snip them right at the stalk. Morning glories glistening with morning dew brightened the scene, trying to overtake Mamma’s neat garden. There were cucumbers to pick, too, a favorite of mine since, to me, picking cucumbers was like looking for Easter eggs. And there was crook-neck squash hiding like sleeping babies under big umbrella leaves. There were onions, too, and, even, in a special corner of the garden, a small patch of rhubarb. But, back to the okra, however much we found and packed into our buckets, that’s how much Mamma would cook for supper.

She showed us how to slice the okra the thickness of three nickels, no more, and then she’d dredge the little circles in cornmeal or flour. She’d put a big spoonful of lard in her largest iron pan and set it on the woodburning stove. (Yes, in those days lard was part of our regular fare. Mamma bought it by the bucket, wistfully remembering when her family had hogkillings and made their own lard.) We were not to stir the okra until the bottom pieces would have browned to a crisp. “If you stir it too quickly, you’ll make the whole mess turn mushy,” she warned.

Mamma’s okra always turned out delicious, though sometimes crisper than others according to how much okra she cooked. Smaller batches were always the best. With larger batches she sometimes had to set the pan in the oven and bake the okra for a while. Either way, as I said, not one nibble would be left in the bowl. If one of us started to be greedy and take too much, knowing we might not have a second chance, Mamma would give us a look and we’d dutifully pass the bowl along.

Once, when my sister Jackie’s fiancé was visiting, Dad, who was inordinately proud of Mamma’s cooking, and who was also hoping to make Fred’s visit memorable, urged Fred to have some okra. Fred took a modest helping, though he later confided he detested okra. Wishing to enjoy the rest of his meal in peace, he ate the okra first. Dad noticed his plate. “Eula, the boy really likes your okra, give him some more.” Fred consumed at least three helpings of okra that day, but never wanted any again!

But he was about the only one who didn’t like Mamma’s crisply fried okra.

And today I make it, too. I still use an iron pan, but I use olive oil now. I still slice the okra thinly and dredge it in flour. And I still carefully wait for that bottom layer to crisp before I start lightly stirring. We have a standing tradition that no okra be saved until the next day. My grandson Charles D will grab the bowl if he has half a chance and dump the last circles on his plate! But he has learned to look around the table and politely ask if anyone wants more before he takes it.

When I go to the market to choose okra, I always select tender pods, not great big ones. As I do, I remember Mamma’s morning gloried garden and I can just smell the mixture of dew on disturbed leaves, the greening smell of squash vines, and hear the buzzing of a june bug. I can’t help thinking, too, of my father-in-law, JB, who farmed in south Georgia and peddled his beautiful vegetables in Coolidge and Thomasville. He had quite a clientele of bank clerks, dental hygienists, grocery managers and more. It was always a privilege to receive his generous gifts of vegetables–cantaloupes, squash, all kinds of peas, corn, and his wonderful okra!

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