Last weekend my college girl and I took off for the countryside of west Tennessee to see her grandparents, her last chance for a long time. As soon as we had unpacked the car, I sat down at the kitchen table with my mother-in-law to help get tomatoes ready to can. Sticking my fingers into soft, warm fruits whose skins had come off easily after a quick boil, I pulled out the white cores, my cotton apron spattered with red juice.
I watched my mom-in-law puree the tomatoes, cook the watery redness in a huge pot, then ladle into sterilized jars that went into a boiling water bath for a final cook. As they cooled on the old porcelain-topped table, the lids sucked in with the sound of popping corn, sealing in the goodness that would make delicious chili and vegetable soup on cold days.
The next day my young cousin went out in the heat of the day with no gloves to cut okra from tall, prickly plants that would ooze slime and scrape hands and arms raw, but she didn’t seem to be bothered. A big bag would go home with me to save for gumbo or be turned into frozen breaded okra.
After a heavenly all-vegetable supper of fried okra and eggplant, homemade creamed corn, butter beans, cornbread and succulent right-off-the-vine tomatoes, my daughter and I and mom-in-law went out to the fields to pick out two long rows of green beans. Molly the black dog sniffed her way through the garden, her tail flagging her presence.
Bush beans have a way of hiding down in the depths, like buried treasure, and thank goodness there were no spiders buried with them, just a toad. My arms got a rash, but I picked away and proudly watched my daughter go at it while wearing a sundress and mere flipflops against the tall grassy weeds among the rows. Cicadas screaming from the trees made the air seem hotter.
My in-laws are lucky to have a daughter and her family nearby who help with their huge garden. I think not too many kids these days would be willing to sweat it out in hot fields cutting beastly okra pods and stooping to gather peas and hidden beans every other day. While our family doesn’t get down there often during harvesting season, my girls and I have helped and I love that they learn how food grows and what labor it is to gather it in. I believe they have a healthy respect for migrant workers.
On the last day I spent a bit of time on the shaded back porch listening to the cicadas and dreaming over a wide meadow. Then it was time to pack the car full of fresh vegetables and head back to the city. I was leaving good memories behind, but I had some poems, some notes on canning and freezing, and some more food stories from my mom-in-law for the little book I’m writing about her. Yes, it was a very good visit.
Air shimmers with heat
rising with the cicadas
The meadow calls me
out to play with grasshoppers
before the haying