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Monday, July 6, 2009

Southern Delights

My guess is that if you came down to the beach this week, you are probably a little disappointed with this afternoon's weather. We had a lot of rain later in the day. Where we live along the shores of the White Oak River, we got 1.75 inches of rain in less than two hours. We actually really needed the rain. It came at a critical time for the corn and soybean crops. It also refreshed all of our vegetable crops which are just now hitting their peak. Those vegetables and also the area fruits are the southern delights that are the subject of this post. My wife and I both grew up in the Piedmont area of North Carolina not far from the Virginia border. Gardening and fresh vegetables were as much a part of summer as going to the beach or the summer sun. That tradition of enjoying fresh vegetables lives on here along the Carteret coast.
I used to think that my mother could live on green beans and cornbread. Of course, the green beans had to be white half runner beans and the cornbread had to be cooked in one of her special cast iron black frying pans. Besides the green beans, there were two other summer treats that played a special part in summer, corn and tomatoes.

Both corn and beans take a serious amount of ground to grow. When I was a child, we did not have room for those on our small plot of land in Lewisville, NC, but there were tomatoes in every empty spot in the beds beside our home. Our many relatives who lived in rural Yadkin County provided us with more beans and corn than we could handle. From an early age, I can remember my mother canning beans and freezing corn. It was just what people living close to the land did in North Carolina in the fifties and sixties. You put up food in the summer for the winter.

My mother canned and preserved vegetables and fruits well into her eighties. Even when she was over ninety, I can remember her helping my wife make blackberry jelly from berries that we had picked. We reached the peak of our canning and preserving during the ten years we lived on a farm in New Brunswick, Canada.  We had well over one hundred canning jars, a water bath canner, and even a pressure canner.  We also had two chest freezers.  While we have given up canning the quarts and quarts of green beans, we still put away a few things. We are already enjoying the strawberry freezer jam that we made from local berries earlier in the spring.

Tonight for dinner we had fresh local sweet corn, homegrown tomatoes, homemade potato salad and our first Bogue Sound watermelon of the year. While we had some meat to go with our veggies, the vegetables were the stars of the meal.

Those vegetables are just a few of the southern delights that we are fortunate to have here in Carteret County. One of the really special things about the Southern Outer Banks area is that we have a very early growing season. Our strawberries are almost always ripe in mid-April. I got my first ripe tomato this year on June 5. From collards and lettuce to sweet potatoes, the rock-free soils along Bogue Sound produce bountiful crops.

As I talked to my relatives in central NC this evening, I found out that their tomatoes are just starting to ripen, and they are still waiting for the first ears of corn. Last weekend we carried homegrown tomatoes to friends in Roanoke, Va. They will probably not see local tomatoes until the second or third week of July. Our plants will be getting their second wind about then. In 2007 we picked our last ripe tomato on December 19.

So while the rain kept everyone off the beaches this afternoon, it provided crops with a much-needed drink of water. I would have rather that it rained during the night, but you have to take the rain when you can get it. The folks in the Piedmont are very dry and got less than one-tenth of an inch. I suspect they are very jealous of the timely rain that we got today.

If you are looking for local produce, there are a number of places to find it. We are partial to Winberry's in Cedar Point, but other folks have their own favorites. You are likely to find great produce at any of the area farms or markets. We buy from them all.

If you are looking for some of those vegetables at a restaurant, one of the surprising spots to find them is the Bogue House in Cedar Point. I will have to give them credit along the ladies of our church for turning me into a fan of collards. I also enjoy their field peas and sweet potatoes.

One of the great treats of the area is the Bogue Sound watermelon. With just two of us, it is hard to eat one of the larger ones, but today we found a small seedless one at a reasonable price today.

Now that we have enough rain to last us a while, we will be rooting for all sunshine for the rest of the week. The forecast looks pretty close to that. Just do not forget to eat your vegetables after you come in from the beach.

I will be busy tomorrow morning mowing my grass, I am pretty sure that I can hear the grass growing even now. The way I look at it, the rain saved me from having to run my irrigation system so forgive me for being happy with today's downpour.

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