We choose not to travel in the summer, preferring to stay home so we can enjoy our backyard and tend the flowers that Jay is so adept at nurturing. Still, there are so many social events going on that we have to limit our media intake in order to keep ourselves from finding yet another thing we’d love to see or do. A festival or concert almost every weekend, plant sales, picnics, yard sales, baseball games – add in at least one family wedding or reunion, and you’re booked up until fall before you realize what’s happening.
I love all the excitement, but it took a while to get used to. If you live on a farm, as I did for the first twenty years of my life, summers are spent working in the vegetable garden, in the fields, or in the blistering hot kitchen, cooking dinner for the men who are harvesting crops in between canning tomatoes, making jam, etc. There was only one major social event in the summer back then, and we could hardly wait.
The Fourth of July was the one day when everyone came together at our house. The night before, there were bowls of potato salad and fried chicken and pies in the refrigerator, and we knew the aunts, uncles and cousins would come bearing delectable treats like Aunt Mabel’s “sweet slaw,” Aunt Kate’s Boston baked beans (the best baked beans I’ve ever eaten, rich with onions and molasses), and my grandfather’s homemade peach ice cream, well worth the sore shoulder from cranking the handle on the ice cream maker. We kids would take turns cranking while the adults sat in the sultry July heat, drinking iced tea or lemonade and catching up on family gossip.
I think that one of the things I have missed the most about country living is that tradition of sharing food. When you live in a rural area, or even a small town, there is almost always at least one dish in your cabinet that is freshly washed and simply awaiting return to its rightful owner. Sharing isn’t limited to the obligatory funeral/severe illness offering – it is, if you will, woven into the potholder fabric of everyday life. It is a natural assumption that if, say, your neighbor has a bumper crop of sweet corn while yours failed to flourish, he will swap some of that sweet corn for a bushel of zucchini. (Let me point out here that zucchini is a sure-fire bet for beginning gardeners, as it will grow anywhere including a two-inch crack in the sidewalk. It is very prolific, but not the sort of vegetable that endears you to folk. By your third or fourth offer of free zucchini, your friends start avoiding your calls).
Some of my favorite recipes are those handed down from my mother’s friends who shared them with her over coffee at their kitchen tables, at church picnics, or simply because they decided to make an extra loaf of bread or batch of cookies, and knew Shirley would love to try some. Over the years I have amassed three binders full of recipes, some of which I’ve tasted but not yet made, and many that I’ve longed to share. Now I am delighted that the opportunity has arrived.
The circle of sharing seems to be expanding on its own. My friend Mutasem brought by a delicious biryani prepared with red cabbage and pineapple not long ago, and I offered him a roasted vegetable curry that is delicious over rice. We sat over coffee talking first about cooking, then on to other things, and it was time perfectly spent; something we decided do again soon.
The thing about sharing food is that it is never just about food; it’s about offering ourselves to one another, about listening — about love made edible.