As I spent this Labor Day evening near sunset in the garden many memories flooded my soul. The cool breeze reminded me that summer was drawing to to close and the mornings and evenings of gardening were coming to an end. Thoughts from my childhood came back to me from mornings spent with my parents and grandparents picking corn, cutting okra, shucking and bagging corn to freeze and picking and shelling peas. Back then I often dreaded the wake up call to go to the garden at daybreak, but I always enjoyed it once I was in motion. Even as as youngster I knew that I was a part of something. This way of life was all my grandparents had known. Even before the Depression, a garden wasn’t an option, but a necessity for survival.
Scott’s Okra Blooming At Sunset
My parents built the house I spent the majority of my upbringing when I was five. It was built between my grandmother’s house and her sister’s (my great aunt) house on what I remember as a tiny youngster as being a very large garden spot. So growing up next door to my grandmother, I had the luxury of the luscious garden at my disposal, although I didn’t appreciate it as such at the time. In all my years, I have never known a time when at least one person in my family has not had a garden. It is a staple. My grandmother passed away in May 2001, the garden she planted with my Daddy that year was in full growth. She meticulously cared for it daily. She was three weeks shy of celebrating her 90th birthday when she passed. While my Daddy still plants the garden in the same spot each year, I can honestly tell you that the garden has never looked as meticulous and neat as it did before May 2001. My Daddy would agree. My favorite finished product to come from the garden each year were my grandmother’s homemade pickles. While I was quite fond of freshly sliced cucumbers chilled in a mason jar filled with vinegar in the icebox, nothing like those fabulous crisp dills that were not only divine to my taste buds, they were pretty as a picture with their large dill heads in the jars.
The family dill pickle recipe submitted by my great-aunt and published in Tuckerman Cookbook 1958 Edition.
My husband is a farmer of rice, beans and corn. He has spent endless hours planting, dangerously ventured out into the fields during obscene hours to turn pumps off or on while watering the crops, spent long hours harvesting by combine lights, and tireless days and evenings spent sitting in line and waiting for his time to empty the harvest loads at the mill. Yet in all his years of successful farming thousands of acres, I have never seen him more proud of a crop than from his garden this year. Tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, eggplant, and more. No crop has brought him as much pleasure as this year’s bounty from the garden. With a plethora of picked cucumbers overtaking the kitchen and other moments when the garden runneth over, I am sure Scott wondered briefly what in the world he’d gotten himself into and then with a deep breath, he regained composure and fell in love with the idea of being a simple gardener all over again. Scott’s labor of love in the garden reminded me of all the pureness that comes from the garden. I once again realize why my Daddy still plants his garden each year. All the lessons in life that come from such labor, all the memories to me that are priceless. As a rural Southerner, raising a garden is a rite of passage. It doesn’t have to been fancy with raised beds, it doesn’t have to be large, it is as if it must be from the heart. Proof of this is found in our “trading” of the bounty and the simple gesture of gifts from the garden. What a gift of love. Nothing so wonderful and treasured as fresh vegetables brought to you from another’s garden. The only way you’d be luckier would be to receive a home-cooked dish from the cook’s garden.
Cucumbers And More Cucumbers
As the garden winds down, so does summer. The combines have hit the fields. Harvest begins. Soon we’ll trade the warm weather for cooler evenings and mornings. That religious season we love in the South – Football begins. On those cold days this winter when I long for comfort food and reach into the freezer for the okra for gumbo and tomatoes for soup, I’ll be thankful for the hours of sweat my husband put into his garden and long for warmer days and the growing season to start all over again. There’s just something about a garden that gets down in your soul and is the best medicine to feed your soul too.