Summer Garden

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Next to the big gray farmhouse where I grew up was a triangular acre or two that was, most summers, planted as a garden. It wasn’t like the gardens one might see on Public Television, neatly compartmentalized with a few tomato plants here, ten plants of beans there, and a few hills of leafy lettuce.

This garden next to our house had long rows; at least I thought the rows were long when I had to pick whatever vegetable was ready. I didn’t mind picking peas because they grow on top of the bush. Butterbeans, that’s a horse of a different color.

Butterbeans hung on little limbs at the bottom of the bush and that meant bending over or crawling on knees, dragging a five-gallon bucket. Butterbeans got your blue jeans dirty.

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Tomatoes weren’t attached to wooden sticks and growing upwards like we see nowadays. Their vines grew along the ground and, once they began to ripen and rot, the tomato rows could be smelled long before you got to them.

I love the sweet corn grown here in Decatur County, but our garden didn’t have corn. That’s because we had many acres of corn and it was called “field” corn.

There might have been a row of Silver Queen in some gardens, but I don’t remember eating too much sweet corn.

Gardens were a big deal back then. Daddy would let his sisters, two of whom lived here in Bainbridge, know when the peas and butterbeans were ready for picking and they would come over. The whole family, it seemed, would spend days picking and shelling peas and butterbeans.

Daddy would also let them know when the corn was ready. We called the corn “roas-n-ears,” or something like that. Corn is so plentiful now and corn on the cob can be eaten year round, but there used to be only a few weeks when corn on the cob was available.

Most of the corn was grated off the cob, which means it was cut off by one of those contraptions that was a long narrow board with a blade in the middle. The ears of corn would go up and down until the kernels and the corn milk would be collected in a bowl for the delicious dish of creamed corn. I still like it today.

All of these vegetables like peas, butterbeans, okra, corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers were grown in the garden for the purpose of what we called “Putting Up,” as in “putting up peas.” All that means is that the vegetable would be prepared for the freezers that most people had. Or in the case of tomatoes, canned.

Plus, does anyone remember all those cucumbers resting in those big metal containers with a towel over them?

And Mason jars. Who could forget Mason jars?

Then, all during the year, when it was cold and vegetables could not be grown, these wonderfully tasty vegetables would be cooked and we could have “fresh peas” for a meal. Even though they were from the freezer, we still called them fresh.

A garden was a lot of work, but remember, back then, frozen store-bought vegetables were either non-existent or not so tasty. Even today, there are times when families get together and want a mess of peas, not from a can, but from the freezer.

Most children growing up today might not even care too much for veggies. It’s chicken fingers and French fries or Kraft macaroni and cheese.

But to those of us of a certain age, there is still something about creamed corn from the freezer or “fresh” peas from a garden. Those really were the good ole days!