More Memories of June 19: What the Angels Eat

Yesterday I shared a Juneteenth memory–roasting ears. Today I’m sharing memories of two more foods that made June special.

The first is even better than roasting ears: watermelon, which is grown around Luling, ten miles from my hometown. Corn could be frozen for use any time, but when I was a child, watermelon made you w-a-i-t. And once the season was past, that was that. It took forever for Juneteenth to roll around again.*

For more than sixty years, Luling-ites have celebrated each harvest with the Watermelon Thumpa long weekend of music, dance, a parade,  carnival rides, arts and crafts exhibitions, the coronation of the Thump Queen, watermelon eating contests, and the event that stands out from all the rest–the World Championship Seed Spitting Competition, which takes place at the Watermelon Spitway. According to Thump history,

In 1989** a Guinness World Record was set for the first time in Luling for the longest watermelon seed-spit. The record of 65 feet, 4 inches was set by John Wilkinson, a festival attendee from Houston, Texas. Then in 1989,** a local man, Lee Wheelis, re-established the record spitting a distance of 68 feet, 9 1/8 inches. This year a $500 cash prize will be awarded to the top spitter in the Championship Contest and should Luling’s record distance be broken, an additional $500 will be added to the top prize.

In addition, “[s]pitting champions have also been featured guests on the Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, the Regis and Kathy Lee Show, and Howie Mandell’s show.”

Luling also claims to have the world’s largest watermelon. Click here to see a picture.

But, although the Watermelon Thump is a grand festival, it’s really beside the point. The pleasure is in the eating.

I don’t have the words to describe the taste of watermelon, but Mark Twain did:

Watermelon by andreeautza via morguefile

“The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. 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.”

The italics are mine. And Twain was right. Who could repent of eating watermelon?

(Not wishing to spread misinformation I looked it up. The Bible doesn’t say Eve repented after eating the forbidden fruit, but, all things considered, I’ll bet she did.)

My last Juneteenth memory is Aunt Bettie Waller’s birthday. She was married to my great-uncle Maurice from 1905 till his death in 1970, and I don’t think they ever had a cross word between them. That’s not an exaggeration. They were crazy about each other and spent a lot of time laughing. He was the quietest person I’ve ever known, though; when other people guffawed, he just shook. Occasionally Aunt Bettie would decide they should do something, such as air condition the house or turn a screened porch into a sitting room, and he would disagree. When that happened, she talked–quietly, mildly, just mentioning it from time to time–until, after a while, she’d convinced him it was his idea. And after it was done, he was always so pleased with the result.

Burger and Fries by Chance Agrella via Free Range Photos

She did report one major subject of discord. When their son, Pete, was very young, Uncle Maurice refused to discipline him because “he won’t love me.” Aunt Bettie pleaded: “If you don’t make him behave, he won’t know you’re his father.” Once when Uncle Maurice corrected him, Pete retorted, “Uh-uh. That’s Ma’s job.” Then one night at dinner, Pete lobbed a plate of food at Uncle Maurice, and family dynamics underwent a radical change. Everybody kept on loving everybody else.

We often celebrated Aunt Bettie’s birthday with a dinner, featuring corn and watermelon, of course–but the entree was always hamburgers. To her, that was what the angels eat.

Treated to lunch once at a fashionable restaurant, Aunt Bettie ordered a hamburger. Her host expressed disapproval, something along the lines of, “Miss Bettie, I didn’t invite you to this restaurant for a meal you can get at the Dairy Queen.  Order anything you want.” Aunt Bettie wanted a hamburger.

The menu at our gatherings rarely varied. Each woman brought a signature dish. Even for her own party, Aunt Bettie made potato salad. Unfortunately, no one asked for the recipe; there probably wasn’t one. The secret ingredient was probably sugar. That generation of Wallers put sugar into everything–and still, most of them were built like scarecrows.

Aunt Bettie lived to be 101. She would have been 132 last Tuesday. She was a delight to be around, and I miss her.

I miss that potato salad, too. I wish I had the recipe. More to the point, I wish I had a big bowl of it.

And I wish I were one of the Wallers built like a scarecrow.

***

*Watermelons are available all year in grocery stores now, shipped in from Elsewhere. No waiting. Small. Bland. They’re not the same.

** The paragraph from the Thump webpage was copied and pasted into this post. I assume one of the dates reading 1989 is a typographical error.

Concerning titles: In 1997, the Texas Legislature declared Knox City the “Seedless Watermelon Capital of Texas.” Both Dilley and Hempstead claim to be the Watermelon Capital of Texas.  

Washington Post subscribers can read more about seed spitting in Luling at  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/at-texas-festival-watermelon-seed-spitting-is-big-sport/2014/06/26/4c58d270-f588-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html

Memories of July 19: Ros’nears

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.

Ears of corn by mensatic via morguefile

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.

Ears of corn by mensatic via morguefile

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), corn chipstortillas and taco shells. Starch derived from this high-starch content variety is turned into plastics, as well as fructose which 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 syrup is 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 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup. Corn is also used as cattle- and chicken feed, and is indirectly responsible 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, reported that “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 nutritionist says,

Ears of corn ready to eat, by Jonathunder [CC BY-SA 3.0 () or GFDL ], from Wikimedia Commons
When eaten in an unprocessed way and properly prepared, non-GMO whole corn kernels actually have some impressive nutrients to offer . . .  For example, organic corn is a vitamin C foodmagnesium-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.

Political Poetic Parody: Sonnet #1

Last month, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff announced a contest for Trump poems. Guidelines called for verses written from any political stance. I wrote two sonnets but forgot the October 8 deadline for submission. It seemed a shame to let them languish on the hard drive, so I share them here. The first appears below. Views expressed are mine alone and reflect my rights as set out in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. President Putin would call them disrespectful, but he is not the boss of me.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

A darling bud of May

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art too blowy and inelegant.
Sweet-scented, like the darling buds of May?
Thou art like offal sans refrigerant.
Thou’rt graceless, racist, foul-mouthed, cold, and mean,
Misogynistic; driven to inflame
Rank passions: malice, hatred, spite, and spleen.
The sun doth blush and hide his face in shame.
A tweeting fool a-twitter in our ears;
A braying donkey sends forth sweeter sound,
And tells more truth, than thy bleats breeding fears.
The Ship of State thy bullying runs aground.
But when bold Mueller plays his final card,
Thou’ll find thyself hoist on thine own petard.

***

My thanks to William Shakespeare for Sonnet 18.