Tools Riffs & References - Sweet as Summer - Jersey Memories
When I think of summer, I think, of the glow of it all. As a little girl, it seemed to be allll lazy days at the beach, jumping waves in the sunshine under blue skies, and having the old folks make you sit out for an hour after you wolfed down a bologna and cheese sandwich smothered in Mayo (the “H” one...cause Im from the North), chasing it with brand “X” soda which they said was just as good as. Im clutching my chest just thinking about it now.😬
Leaving the beach and walking the couple of blocks back to Nana’s, we would hose our feet off on the side of the house, shower in turns cause there was only one bathroom...knowing the strawberry patch out back would call our names when we were done. Picking what was needed per Nana, we washed, hulled and halve the strawberries, so they could be sugared down, knowing a river of heavy cream was coming later in the evening, that would blend all of that good good together for a simple yet amazing dessert. Nothing else was needed, except the laughter and joy of me and too many cousins. First, second, play...mattered not. It was the summer, it was all good.
Peaches and berries along with the strawberries played a part in what is now the epicurean soundtrack of my life. Yeah, yeah, of course they were turned into pies and cobblers, but the Esther treatment with sugar and heavy cream was and still remains, one of my favorites ways of enjoying this time of the year. Me with a full bowl....and Im right back at her kitchen table.
Food evokes such vivid memories. Mine almost always show up with a real soundtrack that typically features Sarah Vaughan and Dexter Gordon, or a little Chicago Steppin’ 8 count, but if I go back in the coming of age vault where those Jersey summers reside...the Funk shows up and shows out in the summertime. Every cook out, birthday party, going to gather of any kind, was resplendent in showcasing the fresh fruits and vegetables that were the sides to the main attraction of bbq chicken, hotdogs, hamburgers and ribs. Potato salad (I would only eat my grandmothers as it was free from those sweet relish bits), with its boiled eggs, onions, celery, grated carrots, salt, pepper, the “H” and maybe a little bit of yellow mustard, was always in the mix. Regular salad made with Jersey tomatoes, cucumbers, where a fork was used on the skin to create decorative grooves and wait for it...iceberg lettuce, the only lettuce I knew of for YEARS, was also always present. Its so funny...I can almost taste the salad as Im typing cause... it was inevitably drowned in copious amounts of bottled Italian dressing...well that was until we discovered ranch and if there were a few extra coins...MC's blue cheese.
And then there was corn. Canned or frozen in the late winter, in the summertime, corn was bought fresh on the cob silk and husk intact. Typically off an old truck, driven by an old man that everyone seem to know, winding its way through the neighborhood. The kids job was shucking it. No shucking, no eating, which means... we shucked cause we all knew...the “not” was just for giggles and really wasn’t an option...some of y’all know what I mean. Rarely was corn roasted, grilled or sautéed as I do for my Corn Salad recipe leveled up with mint, cilantro and such or on a whim, tossed in with baby kale that's sprinkled with a show yah right lemon vinaigrette. It was almost always boiled in a large pot. Might have been some margarine in there which was super popular at the time...cause it was less expensive than butter and seemed to go further, but what I really remember was, a large metal pot of boiling water blopping, gurgling, rolling...with that butter and sugar corn Jersey was known for, being pulled out of the pot with prehistoric tongs and placed on my paper plate in a pink wicker paper plate holder thingy. With corn holders inserted in each end (fancy, I know), I promptly slathered it with...you guessed it margarine...and liked-ed it.
Back to the music...as a kid, hearing a little Jackson Five action wafting through a window on a hot afternoon or evening as the curtains blew softly in the breeze and the shade pull shimmied about a bit...was all we longed for, breaking up the grown folksiness of it all. I mean, we liked seeing our parents bop, hand dance and give each other the look (Ewe! Weird and gross all at the same time), but what we really were waiting for (again, the cousins), was our turn to bring things forward a few decades. We sang into our mics of hairbrushes and spoons, dancing to the grown folks delight as we mimed the choreography for ABC, I Want You Back, or The Love You Save. Hear me...when I say...when we saw the smiles, hand claps and finger pops, we knew...those moments with the family, the food, and the music...blanketed us in something that we knew...was our version of love.
As the years moved on, the meats, sides and dessert staples of those summer gatherings expanded a little as busy lives, evolving palettes (can we say Baklava), bigger appetites and Home Ec class, alerted our parents that the “kids”, now teenagers, needed do a little more in the kitchen, which we sometimes did...sometimes being the operative word. My thing was yellow cake from a box with frosting from a can and shredded coconut from a bag. Nuff said. Fast Food was on the come up, which we could afford with our little summer job money, so a bucket of fried chicken was not an unusual add, curtesy of one the “kids”. Parliament Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Commodores is what we wanted to listen to...albeit, on our own, not with the adults, cause...we were feeling the Funk...and ourselves. Pants got a little tighter, bell bottoms got a little wider, afros got a little bigger and our skirts, shorts and tops...got a little shorter. You know many of us... (not me, but Im not telling on anybody) had one outfit for the family cookout and another for the other party wrapped in a “we’re going to the beach...yes together” lie...I mean fib.😉
Im smiling y'all cause...its not that I sit in these memories all the time, but when I begin to write recipes HereInMyKitchen, be they based on my family, my life’s journey which is ongoing, inspiration from friends or the Culinary industry, they just come. They show up and flow. Perhaps it’s the universes’ way of saying “its their time to be told, to be shared”. I always hope that in some small way, sharing these stories under whatever category I place them, somehow sparks a memory in others as at the end of the day, we have more in common than not, once you get past some...stuff, and none of us are truly here or in our kitchens alone.
Imma stop now, cause I can go on, but you know...on occasion, my cousins read these BLOGS and some of the old folks are still with us, hence...there are Jersey summer tales that need to still remain amongst us’ins...the cousins. P Funks “Flashlight” and ‘erthang included. 🔦 IYKYK.