Fresh Produce

When tomatoes are in season I cannot get enough of them. Sometimes I eat cottage cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Sometimes I make bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches..

A BLT happens to be my favorite sandwich, but only if there are garden tomatoes.

I no longer grow my own tomatoes, so I visit one of the farm stands for them. If possible, I try to buy a couple green tomatoes to make fried green tomatoes as well.

I make them the way my mother-in-law made them. She is the one who taught me how good they are. When I make fried green tomatoes, I cut slices about ™-inch thick and fry them in butter seasoned with salt, pepper and onion powder. I use no breading. I can make a whole meal on them.

For my BLTs I cook a pound of bacon in the oven at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until it is crispy. I use plenty of lettuce, a generous slab of tomato and several pieces of bacon. A little salt and pepper on them creates a good flavor.

Years ago, I canned tomatoes by the bushel. I enjoyed dipping them in a pot of water until the skin splits, then peeling away the skin after immersing them in a cold-water. After that I squashed them into a jar allowing about ¢ of head space. Next, I put on a lid and a ring. I am no longer sure how long I cooked them, in the water bath, but I know my canning cookbook gives directions.

Each season I canned close to 40 quarts of tomatoes. During the winter we enjoyed homemade spaghetti sauce, goulash, chili and homemade vegetable soup. By spring my canned tomatoes were almost gone. I loved having my own garden tomatoes to can. I knew exactly how they were raised. We used no pesticides. We just kept a close eye on the produce to prevent snails from eating them.

As I recalled the canning process, I remembered all of the pickles I used to make. The kitchen smelled so good when I was processing pickles.

I made mustard pickles, bread and butter pickles, sweet pickles, watermelon rind pickles and dill pickles. Each of them had their own process. I also made zucchini pickles one year. They were very good.

Then, there were pickled beets. I absolutely love beets. I eat them buttered, pickled and as harvard beets.

Around Easter I make pickled beets then put hard-boiled eggs into the brine — that made pickled eggs which we all enjoyed. They look so pretty on the plates.

My life as a farm wife was very interesting. Although I was a city girl, I learned farm ways mostly from my mother-in-law. She always made things look so easy. I had many flops, but eventually I learned all I needed to know to function as a farm wife. In the end I knew more of the local farmers than my husband did because of the meetings I attended about farm things.

My life as a country journalist has been an interesting one. I traveled to Penn State often for seminars. I traveled throughout the Southern Tier once I established that I was close enough to New York to cover things there. I went to Harrisburg. I did features on many of the farms around these parts — even riding a grape picker for the first time ever. I visited a sawmill and saw them gathering lumber by horse. I visited a mushroom farm, a strawberry farm, and a cherry farm.

As I traveled about I always learned something. I was not afraid to ask questions if I did not understand something. Often, I submitted a copy of the article to the farmer before it was published to make sure I had everything correct.

I became quite adept at canning and gardening. I learned to cook all on my own. I experimented with seasonings until I got things right. As a young wife my husband did not like my cooking. He told me over and over that I could not cook like his mother. Of course, that is just what every wife hopes to hear — right? I made up my mind right then and there that I would learn to cook on my own. My grandmother was not a very good cook neither was my mother. My mother really never had to cook since we lived with Grandma.

My cooking skills increased. The hayers never complained. They enjoyed every meal they ate here. Nothing was ever left on the table when they were done.

My canning skills also improved with practice. I tried many things. If I did not like what I canned I put a mark in my canning book to not do it again. I also marked the recipes in the back that I really liked. Consequently, my cookbooks are all marked up.

I very much enjoyed my life as a farm wife. I was eager to learn new things and try new things. Each success felt good. My husband grew to enjoy my cooking even though his mother was still around. In the end he told me that I had become a good cook. That was a reward that I will always cherish. Cooking was a way that I showed my love for my family. If I wanted to do something really special I cooked something special that I knew the family would enjoy.

¯¯¯

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

COMMENTS