Tis the season for vegetables!Published 8:47am Tuesday, June 26, 2012
If you live around here and haven’t had an ear of our county-grown sweet corn, then you are behind the times. As Snuffy Smith used to say, “Time’s a wastin.”
Ears of sweet corn aren’t the only vegetable that’s showing up these days in various “stands” around. I have visited many of them and, instead of listing a favorite, let me simply say that I have found something to buy from each of them. The tomatoes have been universally good. So have the watermelons, cantaloupes, okra, peas, eggplants, and everything.
A week or so ago, I had the urge to put many of those vegetables together in what is my version of an old-fashioned soup. After it was all finished, it was sort of like a gumbo, but since I never called anything I made a gumbo, I’ll call it a soup. It was really good, but I got to thinking that the credit surely did not belong to me.
I might have put everything together into the pot, but I did not invent or create any one of the delicious items. To God be the glory. Plus, I got some help from many people, including a very nice church member from Mitchell County. It wasn’t the first time she had helped me with food and I hope it won’t be the last.
Her son gave me the good news. He was excited as he told me. He had a certain evangelistic fervor and I thought he was about to shout as he said, “Brother Lynn, I’ve got some great news for you!”
“Preach it brother,” I thought. “Tell me the good news.”
“Momma has put up some peas for you. They are blanched and in our freezer just waiting for you. Just tell me where I can meet you and I will bring them to you,” he said.
“Oh no,” I replied. “I’ll come by and get them.” Heaven forbid that I should not make the effort to go by and thank that precious lady.
Meanwhile, all the vegetables that I could think about were swirling around in my mind, begging to be joined in my cooking pot with some kind of seasoning meat, with the final product to be some delectable stew or soup. I simply was obsessed with the idea of a vegetable soup.
I went to my friend and maestro, Walter Goodman. I dropped by his store, Dixie Dandy, and got some stew beef. I asked him about a stew and he knew nothing and referred me to the “Paula Dean” of his house, Del. She gave me her take on making the soup.
“Don’t forget the okra,” she said. “Okra makes it.” I agreed that okra, or “okrie,” as I have known it, was important.
At home, I got my soup, stew, or chili-cooking pot out and covered the stew beef with water and began to boil it. The longer the better. I wanted it to cook itself all apart and to a supreme tenderness.
I could have bought a can of tomatoes, but that would have been crazy. I have already mentioned the great tomatoes I have been putting between two slices of white bread, with plenty of mayonnaise, salt and pepper. That’s called a tomato sandwich and I have been living off them for a few weeks. I bought some more tomatoes and began to stew them.
I wanted some peas for my soup. I had not picked up those that had been put up for me so I called my friend. She said “come and get ‘em.”
“I’m on my way.”
“What kind of meat are you using for your soup?” she asked.
“Stew beef,” I said and expected to be congratulated.
She acted as if I had made a major mistake, a faux pas of soup cooking. She explained that stew beef was for onions, potatoes, and carrots. What I needed for my vegetable soup was ham hock and she had some that she would send me with the peas. How could I argue with that? But what would I do with the stew beef that was already cooked?
I took her advice and added a medium sized Vidalia onion, bought some new, red potatoes, and added some of those very sweet and little carrots. That’s all I did. I threw them in there and decided not to add the kitchen sink. Two hours later, I tasted the beef stew. It was great and I had done nothing but add this and that.
The next day, I took my clean and empty cooking pot and began to boil the ham hocks she had sent. An hour and one-half later, I put in another batch of freshly picked and home-stewed tomatoes. Together they boiled for another half hour.
Then, I added some Decatur County cut-off-the-cob sweet corn kernels, a package of Mitchell County grown Sadandy cowpeas, fresh okra and brought it to a roiling boil. It simmered for an hour and then I tasted it.
It was like I was in a time machine. It was just like I remembered, maybe a little thicker. I could not decide which was better; the beef stew of yesterday or the vegetable soup that I was currently tasting. I would enjoy them both.
What’s the bottom line? How simple and good a little meat and freshly grown vegetables can be when cooked the old-fashioned way. Did I do something good? I guess. But all I really did was put some things that others had grown and God had created into a simple pot and let time and heat take over. As I said, to God be the glory!