Cooking With Myra: Recalling home-grown vegetables
Nov. 29, 2010 at 5:29 a.m.
Updated Nov. 30, 2010 at 5:30 a.m.
By Myra Starkey
When I was growing up in Lake Charles, La., my father was into gardening. He probably would have even called himself an amateur horticulturalist, although to me, that just sounds like someone who digs and plants for no pay.
During the day, he was a mild-mannered dentist, but after he got home from the office, he changed out of his work clothes and headed outside to his greenhouse or garden. I guess either way, he was just enjoying getting to work with his hands.
His greenhouse was a makeshift wood-framed structure with sheets of translucent, green fiberglass on the roof and plastic sheeting on the sides. It had shelves down both sides and the floor was littered with garden tools and pots of every kind.
He never threw away black plastic pots, so had plenty of pots to plant seeds.
He could grow anything, and we always had a large garden, no matter what the season. He divided our backyard in half, one side for his garden, and the opposite part for the other focus of his attention, that being his three lovely daughters.
On that side was our playhouse and swing-set on a lush green lawn. Against the back fence, and next to the garden, was his greenhouse. It was the best of both worlds for him, watching his plants grow on one side of the yard, while his beloved daughters grew on the other.
He made rows running the length of the backyard and tilled the soil between every season. He added supplements to make his garden grow.
One season, he decided to purchase chicken excrement and rice hulls to boost his soil. He tilled and tilled and although we pretended the smell was not too bad, I could smell it in my bedroom at the back of the house. The day after he made the rows and spread rice hulls it rained and you could imagine the comments our neighbors had. He reassured us that the stench we were enduring would be worth the bumper crop of vegetables that would come that summer.
The squash grew so tall that my sisters and I could hardly see over the plants. The tomato bushes proliferated across the rows, making the path impassable for dad, but not for the three miniature humans who infested his leafy paradise.
So, the harvest of vegetables became our task that summer. We had to dress in our oldest clothes and crawl down the path on our hands and knees beneath the leaves and reach up into the bushes to pick the ripe tomatoes. After we placed them in the row we rolled them to the end for dad to pick up. If they were too ripe we held the bottom of our shirts out front for a makeshift basket to carry the soft ones. We picked about 10 gallons per day. We had tomatoes everywhere. Sometimes, our inexperienced hands picked green ones and mom and dad spread newspapers on every flat surface so the tomatoes could ripen. Since our bumper crop yielded more than we could eat, my dad loaded our red wagon, and we pulled it down Heather Street to share our harvest with the neighbors.
Also in our backyard, just behind the barbecue pit on the patio, was a tall pear tree. Sometimes its branches were used for switches for bad little girls, although I can only remember the threat, but not the whipping. I must not have been bad very often.
The pear tree would yield green pears in early spring, and we would give those away, too. I was never too fond of pears as a child either because of the switches I associated with the tree, or because I preferred store-bought apples to the tart pears, with their brown splotches and bug blemishes.
My friend, Janet, prepared this delicious dessert. It is so spectacular, I wanted to share it. The recipe comes from the magazine Bon Appetit, November 2002 issue. Enjoy.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail email@example.com.