When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.
~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nHead Wilson
I believe in eating locally grown food. I also believe in eating watermelon.
For a couple of months out of the year, I can do both.
For years, I did both, waited through long months of fall and winter and spring, until late June, when the Luling fields came in and brought the food the angels eat.
Waiting wasn’t easy, especially since I was at the same time waiting for roasting ears to get ripe. Field corn—horse corn—musty-flavored yellow dent: not the food of angels, perhaps, but only because they don’t know about it.
But this post is about watermelon. It’s high in fiber and potassium, low in calories, and available in grocery stories year-’round. A couple of months ago, I decided—I’ll wait for Stonewall peaches, but watermelon, wherever it comes from, I’m having now.
Except tonight, when David called from the kitchen, “This watermelon is bad. I just stuck the knife in, and look.”
I trotted in to see.
It was bad.
I’d never seen anything like it.
No matter. We always have a back-up.
Read about square watermelons at Wikipedia. Common in Japan, they’re “purely ornamental” and “tend to appeal to wealthy or fashionable consumers . . . in 2001 they cost anywhere from two to three times a normal watermelon (at about $83).”
Note: Eighty-three dollars is much more than two to three times what I pay for a watermelon.
Another note: The corn pictured above is getting on toward horse stage. Humans eat it as soon as it’s ripe. I haven’t seen yellow dent corn in years. They don’t sell horse corn in grocery stores.
Ernest wanted a share of the chili I had for dinner. I was not into sharing.
He’s never had people food and thus has no concept of tummy ache. He also has no concept of, “It would burn your mouth.” Or, “You wouldn’t eat it. After you get one sniff, you’ll walk away.”
Or, “I don’t eat your food, so you’re not going to eat mine.”
Truth to tell, I wasn’t crazy about it myself. It came from a can. Thinking canned chili appropriate for sheltering in place, which I assumed would be like spending several years in an underground bomb shelter, I bought two cans. After a month inside I gave in and opened one.
When I say I wasn’t crazy about it, I mean it it’s okay, but it doesn’t measure up to my mother’s. Well, what does?
She didn’t use as much chili powder as the factory does. She sautéd onions, browned ground meat, and added Chili Quick. She might have used a little chili powder, but not much. Chili Quick did the job. No catsup, no tomatoes, no jalapeños. Sometimes we spooned chili over rice, but the two were never combined at the stove. Like rice, pinto beans were served on the side.
She usually delighted my father by making it for the first cold snap.
“Oh, I can’t cook,” she often said. When I disputed that, she said she didn’t cook exotic or complicated dishes. I told her she was a plain cook. For the most part, she made what my father liked, which meant she cooked what his grandmother had (for example, fried chicken unencumbered with layers of crust, homemade peach ice cream, meringue pies). There was one exception: She served only one kind of meat dish per meal. The Waller women put three meats on the table (for example, roast beef, ham, fried steak); his aunts apologized if they served only two.
My father ate everything my mom cooked, even fried liver, which he hated, but he never complained. When he wasn’t home, she cooked creamed chicken on toast. Home from World War II, he had banned creamed everything, Irish potatoes, and Spam. He got over the Irish potato phobia but not the other. My first week in second grade at a new school, I reported that the cafeteria offered a choice of ham or something else that was flat and sort of pinkish. I’d never heard of Spam.
I understand I’m not the only Baby Boomer unfamiliar with that delicacy.
Having been stationed for several months in Scotland and England, my dad also banned mutton. For a while after the war, mutton was the only meat my mom could get. She pretended it was beef.
Casseroles were not a favorite so we didn’t often have them. Once, when I was in high school—a good twenty years after D-Day—my mom came home from work with a new recipe for tuna casserole and said she liked it and was going to make it, so there. It was terrible. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and gave the casserole Desiree, our Collie. Desiree looked at it and walked away. Randy, the enormous yellow dog who lived next door, came over and finished it off. How he managed to gobble up every scrap, even soupy white sauce, and leave the asparagus I don’t know. I guess it’s a dog thing.
Back to Ernest. He was interested in the chili but ignored the green beans. Also canned. I sympathized. I love fresh green beans. The green pintos that came from my great-uncle’s Maurice’s garden on the farm were delicious. So were the mature pintos.
I’ve picked rows and rows of those, then sat at home in the air conditioning, shelling same. Most went into the freezer, as did black-eyed peas. Cream peas, rarely planted, we’re exquisite.
Uncle Maurice was generous with his produce, but gathering it could be hazardous. Once when a group of women were picking beans and peas for a Methodist Church dinner, one of them came upon a rattlesnake. The story goes that she ran but her shoes stayed put.
One year, Dick Ward, of nickel ice cream fame, stopped my father outside the ice cream parlor, then went back inside and brought out a paper sack of dried cream peas and asked my dad to plant them on his farm, where Dick had once lived. At the end of the season, my dad delivered to Dick the entire crop—one pea. The seeds were either old or passive aggressive.
Back to Ernest again. As I said, he wouldn’t have eaten the chili. But he would have snuffled it, and eating chili that’s been cat snuffled is almost as bad as eating chili that’s been cat licked. I’ve caught him licking cream cheese off English muffins I’ve carelessly set on the table beside my recliner and walked away from. I can’t be sure he won’t branch out, and that would be a certain recipe for tummy ache.
And, most important of all, I’m Ernest’s mother. I should do as well by him as mine did by me.
On June 19th, I wrote about the official Juneteenth holiday. Today I’m sharing a memory that surfaces every year when June 19 comes around.
In my corner of the world, Juneteenth marks the time corn is ripe and ready to eat. Although most people prefer sweet corn, my family ate field corn–roasting ears, commonly pronounced ros’nears–the same kind cattle eat after it’s dried. Considering the amount we ate or froze to eat (usually sheared off the cob and served creamed) after the season ended, it’s a wonder there was any left for the cows.
My father’s uncles grew corn. When it was ready, we made a pilgrimage (or two or three . . . ) to the cornfield on Uncle Maurice’s place. Picking was an itchy job. The men usually took care of that. Shucking and removing silk was no picnic either, but everyone participated. I helped shuck (also an itchy job) and silk, but I wasn’t strong enough to chop the stem end off. More to the point, my chopping technique lacked accuracy, so I was best occupied elsewhere.
The variety was Yellow Dent–so-called because the kernels have “an indentation in the crown of each kernel.” Wikipedia helped me with crown; I didn’t know the word. (I use capital letters in the name because the it deserves them.)
Field corn has a heavy, musky taste; or maybe it’s musty. Neither word is correct, but they’re the best I can do. No matter–boiled, slathered with butter and covered with a sprinkling of salt, it’s delicious.
Several years ago, I mentioned Yellow Dent to some of the teacher-farmers I worked with; they’d never heard of it. I assumed that over the years it had been replaced by hybrids. A paragraph in Wikipedia corrected the assumption:
Most of the corn grown in the United States today is yellow dent corn or a closely related variety derived from it. Dent corn is the variety used in food manufacturing as the base ingredient for cornmeal flour(used in the baking of cornbread), cornchips, tortillasandtaco shells. Starch derived from this high-starch content variety is turned into plastics, as well as fructosewhich is used as a sweetener (high-fructose corn syrup) in many processed foods and soft drinks.
So Yellow Dent is still with us, serving a number of worthwhile purposes.
Its widespread use in the American diet has brought corn under scrutiny in recent years. Corn syrupis widely used as a sweetener and is an ingredient in many refined foods. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in 2001, Americans consumed 62.6 poundsof high-fructose corn syrup. Corn is also used as cattle- and chicken feed, and is indirectlyresponsible for the high doses of antibiotic given to cattle. Scientific American, citing a 2008 study in which researchers analyzed meat from hamburgers and chicken sandwiches produced by three separate fast food companies in six cities across the United States, reportedthat “93 percent of the tissue that comprised the hamburger meat was derived from corn.” More recently, it’s been linked to the obesity epidemic.
Other sources claim that health problems arise from a diet rich in processed foods containing products derived from corn. One nutritionistsays,
When eaten in an unprocessed wayand properly prepared, non-GMO whole corn kernels actually have some impressive nutrients to offer . . . For example, organic corn is a vitamin C food, magnesium-rich food, and contains certain B vitamins and potassium. It also supplies a good dose of two antioxidants linked to eye and skin health called zeaxanthin and lutein. Eating fresh corn on the cob also gives you a good amount of the daily dietary fiber you need, along with some complex carbohydrates that are a good energy source.
A friend recently remarked that ours is the last generation to eat “real food.” The corn I remember wasn’t organic, but it was real food. And it makes for happy memories.
I’d planned to make it myself. We had spotty bananas. David made a special trip to HEB for sugar, flour, cream of tartar, vanilla wafers, and other ingredients Miss Myra required.
Then I ran out of steam.
That was Friday.
Saturday the bananas were even spottier. Definitely on their way out.
I was the same, minus spots.
That’s when David said the magic words: “Shall I make banana pudding?”
Who was I to say him nay? I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.
I emailed him the link to Miss Myra’s Banana Pudding recipe. He took his Chromebook to the kitchen, pulled up the web page, located the egg separator I gave him last Christmas (not dreaming he would ever have reason to use it), and got cooking.
The result is pictured below.
After the pudding chilled awhile, David sampled and pronounced it good. He said it tasted like someone else made it.
I wanted a bite but, having feasted on the extra vanilla wafers and milk, I was in no mood to partake. Mañana.
The point I wish to make: David is a saint. An angel. A veritable paragon of virtue.
Or, as Polly Pepper would say, David is a brick.
Today we take up the question, Is meringue necessary?
When Millie invited is over for dinner, she said she would cook a chili rellenos casserole.
Oh, said I, don’t go to any trouble for us, all the while praying she would.
I helped. She asked what the difference is between Poblano and Anaheim peppers, so I set up my laptop on her kitchen table and googled.
For the record, Poblanos are hotter than Anaheims, which were bred to be mild to suit the taste of Californians around 1900.
She also made guacamole and sauteed onions and yellow squash. I make squash the same way, but hers tastes good.
Everything tasted good. (I know commenting on the quality of the food one is served violates the rules of etiquette, but bloggers are exempt from that rule as well as from several others.)
Millie shared the chili rellenos recipe, but I doubt I’ll ever recreate tonight’s experience. There’s something–a je ne sais quoi, if Millie had served crepes–about a home cooked meal–cooked in someone else’s home–that restaurant fare can’t duplicate.
I could go on and on, but the movie is about to begin. They’re hollering for me to bring the bowl of fresh cherries I’m hogging to the living room. They said I have to share.