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Trilla Pando:

Stirring up memories


Summer days
July 18, 2007

I love summer days, long and (often I hope) lazy. They are a good time to do my favorite things: read, cook, read about cooking—well, read about food.

That's what I've been doing the last few days. I've loved Barbara Kingsolver's novels, but this time she's written not a made-up story but one that really happened to her and to her family.

The whole family, Barbara; husband, Steven Hopp, and their daughters, Camille and Lily, left their long-time Arizona home, headed east to the Appalachians and a farm long in Steven's family. There they lived for a year on the land, growing as much of their own food as possible and obtaining the rest from nearby.

What an effort! It took all four of them—Lily, still in elementary school, was in charge of the chickens. In fact, merely to write the book about the experience was a family effort. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara writes most of the text and Steven, a scientist, offers technical explanations while Camille, a college student, offers insights and lots and lots of recipes. Lily is waiting in the wings.

The book's a great summer read. I'm not the only one who thinks so; it's been on the best seller list for several weeks. But reading this is more than fun and good recipes; it makes me think.

No I didn't run out and plant a garden or invest in chickens, though I did think about acquiring a tomato plant. All I'm growing this year is a little rosemary and a lot of mint. But I have been asking where my food comes from. And, more and more, I'm making sure that it comes from right around here.

It's not hard to do. Kingsolver tells a story about a little town that is so safe and friendly that folks never lock their doors-except in July. If you leave the house unlocked then, you are likely to come home to a kitchen full of squash from your neighbors' gardens.

My kitchen hasn't filled up with squash yet, but I'm finding plenty of places to find good local produce and I'm on the trail of grass-fed beef from Early County. (I feel a field trip coming on.) I can run over to Brinson and get fresh goodies at the Bridges vegetable stand that's right out in the field, or I head to Donalsonville where I can pick my own tomatoes at Johnson Produce, and right here in Bainbridge, on Scott Street near Five-Points, the Matamoras family has tomato and corn from local growers.

A couple of weeks ago, I hit the Downtown Market in Tallahassee on Saturday morning. I may have been in Florida, but I found plenty of good Georgia produce. Young Matt Snyder from the K and K Farms in Quitman sacked us up a monster cantaloupe. When I asked Sonia Narra, who brings in her crops from near Thomasville, if the plums were local, she laughed and then told me she'd picked them herself from the tree in her front yard. That's local.

My summertime favorites are the tomatoes. All varieties. There may be nothing quite like a fresh tomato sandwich on white bread eaten over the sink. Not too good for company, though. Here's a variation for guests. It has a sophisticated name, but the mayonnaise makes it a South Georgia tomato sandwich!

Georgia Summer Bruschetta
8 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped (or an equal amount of any fresh ripe tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ red onion or white onion, chopped
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 loaf French bread, cut into ½-inch slices, diagonally

Combine tomatoes, garlic, onion and olive oil in a bowl. Allow to set for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator. Add the basil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Toast the bread (both sides) until golden in the oven.

Lightly coat each slice of toasted bread with mayonnaise, top with the tomato mixture and serve immediately or put the tomatoes in a bowl with a serving spoon and let everyone help themselves. Tastes like summer!

There may be no summer taste, though, quite like this. Of all the recipes I've put in "Stirring up memories," this is the hands down favorite! I share it every summer.

Barbara Tennille's Tomato Pie
9-inch pie shell
2 or 3 large tomatoes, thickly sliced
salt and pepper
sweet basil, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 green onions, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Fill the pie shell with tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, pepper, green onions and basil.

Combine the mayonnaise and cheese and spread over tomatoes. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. This should serve six. Likely, it will serve four.

Now if you are thinking it's too hot to cook, try some summer blending. There's nothing like a cool soup on a hot day.

Watermelon Gazpacho
2 cups ¼-inch-diced watermelon
2 cups apple juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 seedless cucumber, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, basil or cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Process ½ cup of watermelon, along with the apple juice and oil, in a blender or food processor until pureed. Transfer to a medium bowl, along with remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This is merely a starting point-and you can go off in all directions. Make this a dessert soup by substituting blueberries, strawberries, peaches or other chopped fruit for the vegetables. You can also substitute orange or other fruit juices for the apple juice. Pink lemonade would be interesting.

For an entirely different taste, use cantaloupe instead of watermelon and tomato juice or V-8 for the apple juice and add some chopped fresh tomatoes.

Have fun. And let me know what you come up with!

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network