So I channeled my inner Pennsylvania German grandmother and pickled some stuff today.
I had a really fresh baby seedless watermelon in my CSA box, and I remembered how my grandmother used to pickle watermelon rind in the summer.
So I cleaned the rind (you remove the tough outer green shell and scrape out as much as the pink as possible left over from chunking up a watermelon) and cut it up into pieces of about an inch to 2 inches along with slicing up my remaining half bag of jalapeño peppers which also came from the CSA box. I brined both in salt water in the refrigerator overnight, bringing out today and draining and rinsing with clear water.
I brought to a boil a little over 3 cups (give or take) of a 1 to 3 part ratio of cider vinegar and white vinegar and sugar and spices. I had some white vinegar I wanted to use up, or I would’ve used all cider vinegar. This is a sweet pickle so I had easily a cup and a half of sugar, mustard seed, pickling spice, dill, cinnamon sticks in the spice and sugar category.
I cooked this mixture just shy of five minutes and then added first the watermelon rind, then about five minutes later I added the jalapeños and 4 sliced up medium carrots – slices of carrot no more than a half inch thick.
Finally I added slices of 1 large red onion. I cooked this until the watermelon rind reached a translucent stage, then removed everything from heat and ladled into preserving jars.
I did not put these in a hot water bath as I am going to store them in the refrigerator. They should last a few months that way. It’s sort of an icebox pickle.
They will need to cure a couple weeks before trying them.
Entertaining in the summer is so easy and fun! Fresh fruit and vegetables and flowers are so readily available and it is easy to be casual.
I am not for the paper plates and plastic cup casual, though. I like to make things look nice for my guests.
Last night was one of those nights. We got together with some of our favorite friends from high school and we don’t get together as often as we should and I wanted it to be special.
I did my table in my vintage finds that were season appropriate- Fiestaware and a cool Vera tablecloth.
I served summer food with my culinary twists. Started with a real gooey traditional French Brie with fresh strawberries on the side as well as crackers. Melon wrapped in prosciutto but not just cantelope, a lucious canary melon too. And a super fresh caprese salad with my own garden basil.
For dinner, sweet cornbread muffins with dill, chili powder, and cinnamon. Chuck roast I had marinated for two days and roasted (they were supposed to be for the grill but Mother Nature changed the weather up). The roast was tender and flavorful!
We finished with a seasonal greens salad topped with sliced thin rings of lolipop scallions, Mert’s Nuts (the salad crumbles), goat cheese crumbles and a simple mustard vinegarette. Dessert was a triple berry trifle with three layers of pudding (lemon, coconut, white chocolate) and cookies my friend brought from Isgros.
And on a whim along with some lovely French Rosés I served prosecco. The food was fresh and simple and the table seasonally festive. I did it buffet style so my guests could mingle and eat what they chose while catching up.
Best of all it was just one of those fun evenings where it all felt like it was only five minutes long! Good friends, good food, good conversation and fun!
Morning is filled with the sounds of bird song . I can smell the garden phlox and roses as I water the rest of the plants. The garden is exploding with the colors of the end of mid- summer.
In the background I can hear my neighbor’s chickens clucking with some indignation of an inter-chicken family squabble.
A brave jack rabbit hops tentatively up a garden path.
A hummingbird along with a hummingbird moth flit from flower to flower in the main perennial bed.
I can now also hear in the background the hum of cicadas. To me, that is always the signal that another stage of the season called summer is about to begin.
The day started out with a heavy humid dampness, and is no doubt going to be somewhat of a scorcher before all is said and done and the sun is down. But these are the beautiful days we should cherish in the middle of winter and in our memories forever.
People often mock anyone who refers to life’s simple pleasures, but this is indeed one of them. To be able to sit in a porch chair and look at what you have created and what is growing is such a rare treat.
It may be an old cliché that people need to stop and smell the roses, but sometimes you just have to. With all the ugliness that exists in this world, there’s nothing more beautiful than a garden in bloom. I feel really sorry for people that are so miserable, mired down, and stuck that they can’t experience the simple goodness of things like this. Gardening truly is good for your soul.
Yes this tastes as good as it looks. And couldn’t be more simple.
All it is is two slices of wheat bread toasted, a little bit of mayonnaise on the bread- not much – and to that that you layer on sliced fresh mozzarella, sliced fresh tomatoes, a couple of thin slices of Vidalia onion, salt and pepper to taste and top off with basil leaves. If you build this sandwich on ciabatta or other more substantial rustic bread I would suggest substituting olive oil for mayonnaise.
When the weather starts to warm up, as far as the garden is concerned it is definitely holier if it’s earlier. The whole holier if it’s earlier is a familial joke having to do with my great aunts who loved mass at 6 a.m. every day during the week. It does apply to gardening too, however. When it gets warm you either water before the heat of the day, or after the heat of the day. I like before (or early morning) because I grow roses and it cuts down on rose diseases like black spot and mildew when I water first thing in the morning.
This morning I was out there a little before 7 a.m. The garden in summer is so extra beautiful in the early morning hours. The birds are at their morning songs and it’s cool and quiet. It’s peaceful and a terrific way to start your day.
This morning I had to feed everything front side and woods side so it was a process. Today I used fish emulsion. Specifically I have been using Alaska Brand Fish Fertilizer which you can buy lots of places, including Home Depot. The drawback is your garden smells like dead fish for an hour or so after you apply but the plus side is plants love the stinky stuff.
I also had to dead head the roses and some of the zinnias that bloomed early. I had to stake up some droopy plants here and there, including a few sun flowers. I don’t grow the giant sun flowers, but I choose these Italian sunflowers that are of a more compact growth habit and are a deep red. They only get 2 to 3 feet tall. These plants I bought because the Mexican red sunflower seeds I planted were duds.
This was not the year for seeds for me. The only seeds that have come up at all are the wildflower seeds I bought on eBay for the woods. Because the ice storm did mother nature pruning and opened up the tree canopy, I saw it as an opportunity to enjoy some additions to the garden.
Roman Chamomile and English Thyme
The change in light due to this winter’s ice storm has presented me with a lot of planting opportunities, truthfully. I have had all sorts of plants pop up since spring broke that did not have the light for years to emerge. I had blood root for the first time, amazing Jack in The Pulpits, and what I think are wild hydrangeas. A plant that I thought was a wild dogwood and is about eight feet tall bloomed for the first time and it is a viburnum of some sort. I have no idea as to the cultivar.
Plants I initially thought were goners after the winter have surprised me with new growth. A couple of other viburnum and itea (Virginia Sweet Spire) have resurrected themselves and my Pistachio hydrangeas which I thought were totally dead have sprouted from the base of the plants much to my surprise- I don’t think they will bloom this year but they are alive! A mystery shrub that came with the house that I couldn’t identify until it bloomed this year is some sort of old fashioned wigelia. It was greatly overgrown when we bought the house and last year I gave it a big hair cut and it rewarded me with blooming this year even after the winter we had.
Some plants did not make it. I lost a bunch of ferns and my inherited caryopteris. Plants damaged by the hail storm we had a few weeks ago are finally starting to recover. Well except for that hydrangea named Annabelle that came from White Flower Farm. I am not sure if it will make it or I will rip it out in frustration. It may just end up as one of those failure to thrive kind of plants.
The break in my tree canopy was a good excuse to start more woods-edge planting beds. So I have started one on a slight incline that is growing well. I planted witch hazels, elderberries (I planted the dark leaved ones “Black Lace” and “Black Beauty”), oak leaf hydrangeas (I can’t remember the cultivar names but they will have white flowers.) , some ferns, hostas, lily turf, day lilies, spice bush, spider wort, and mountain mint. It sounds like a lot of plants, but everything is spread out.
A garden takes years to evolve, so I am but at the beginning of what I want to do. But I will tell you it is so satisfying. And a garden in the morning is such a slice of heaven. Of course today, heaven came with a price – something stung me around one of my eyes. It doesn’t hurt, but it is swollen and a friend to Benadryl. Yuck.
Tell me how your gardens grow! Thanks for stopping by!
Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This morning when I was making a fresh pasta salad I got to thinking of summers past. Here I am an adult in my own kitchen in Chester County and I hear the sounds of memories on a hot summer day and places now a lifetime away.
This has been a big month. One of my best friends turned 50 on June 20th and another today June 26th. The one turning 50 today should remember this time of year when we were 12 and 13 respectively and we were suffering through the Tennis Farm at Shipley – our mothers had big hopes for our tennis capabilities (and that was all shot to hell in a hand basket rather quickly!)
My father’s birthday is on June 29th. He was born on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. Odd bit of trivia to remember but when I was between 9th and 10th grades and on my first visit to Europe, the village in Alsace I was in had some sort of Saints Day remembrance.
So I was looking through old photos today and pulled out a couple in particular having to do with my father – one photo was taken at my great aunts’ former home on Ritner Street in South Philadelphia when he was only a few weeks old. The photo says on the rear in fading old-fashioned script “July 20, 1935 baby 21 days old”. My father is being held by his father whom I only have a few memories of because he died when I was quite young.
One of the memories I do have of Pop-Pop, my father’s father, is him teaching me how to plant my first tomato plants in my first garden. Yes, a summer memory and I remember we planted plum tomatoes and one of the plants bore a tomato that looked like a little baseball mitt.
Another photo I was looking at was from the late spring into summer of 1941 when my father was taken to Washington DC to see his godmother, my Great Aunt Josie who went to Washington I am told to work for the war effort during World War II – I know that was something that not every young Italian American woman of her generation was permitted to do.
It is these hot and humid summer days thus far over the past few days that have made me think of other hot and humid summer days of my life.
I remember days like this in the 7th to 8th grade area of my life and I remember swimming in the pool reserved for the estate help of the old Dorrance Estate on Monk Road in Gladwyne. One of the girls I knew at the time had parents who worked on the estate and I believe she and her family also lived on a tenant property. Don’t know if that second swimming pool still exists today – the estate is now inhabited by former in-law relatives of designer Tory Burch I believe. It was a fabulous pool and even as an adult I marvel that it was for the help.
I remember days like this when I was even smaller and we lived in Society Hill and would go to see my great aunts in South Philadelphia. I have these very distinct memories not of greasers and mobsters but of the little old Italian ladies up and down the street socializing with each other out on their stoops and front porches in aluminum garden chairs and even plain wooden kitchen chairs. Their voices traveled up and down the block in the humid summer air. It was a comforting sound, a cacophony of English and Italian. A lot of the houses had no air-conditioning, or if they did they were window units. I am old enough to remember when most did not have central air. It was at that house in South Philadelphia I learned how to make pasta on a giant ceramic topped kitchen table too.
I spent a lot of time with my great aunts growing up. My father was their favorite out of his siblings and my parents’ relationship with my father’s late mother was difficult at best a lot of my growing up years. My father’s mother and I actually had a better relationship when I became an adult and she was living in a nursing home close to where I was working.
Grandmom was a very intelligent woman, just not very easy-going. Grandmom was someone who truthfully hurt my feelings a great deal as a small child. I remember one time I had either made brownies or chocolate chip cookies for the first time with my mother and for some reason I wanted to tell Grandmom. I was maybe in 3rd or 4th grade. So we called her up on the phone. She did not say “that is wonderful” or any of those simple platitudes little girls love, she had to tell me how my oldest female cousin had made Baked Alaska or something preposterous. I was crushed. She was however one of the oldest survivors of breast cancer I ever knew.
Summer days like this also remind me of my mother’s parents. Mumma and Poppy were so much fun. My Poppy was this little Irishman and Mumma was Pennsylvania German. But with the two of them there was never any awkwardness, you just knew you were loved.
Summer and my Mumma meant fruit pies with that crazy perfectly high meringue on top like you see in diners. Only her pies were amazing tasting too with perfect flakey crusts. And one summer we all remember her also helping convince my father to let us take home a stray kitten who found us in Avalon. “I always have loved a red cat.” she said. And yes, Kitty Joy came home.
Summer also meant days down in the Gardens of Ocean City NJ playing on the beach when I was really little and then playing in the dunes of Avalon (there used to be amazing sand dunes before mother nature and over building took over). Summer at the beach meant decorating your bikes for bike parades, getting soft fresh donuts still warm from the oven dusted with confectioners sugar and sticky cinnamon buns from the bakery with my father on early weekend mornings, and looking at the constellations and for shooting stars on a wide open beach at night.
Summer also meant to me as a child the art and crafts fair that my mother and a lot of her friends helped start and volunteered for at Head House Square in Society Hill – otherwise known as the Head House Square Shambles. There you would see art of many of Philadelphia’s best artists of the day, including family friend Margery Niblock.
Summer also meant visits to my mother’s German friends who were sisters. They lived in Schwenksville and Harleysville respectively in amazing old farm houses. One sister used to have a 4th of July party we went to sometimes as a little girl. It was a huge thing with people and kids all over the place. I remember pigs roasting on a spit, watermelons carved into baskets and filled with fruit salad and grown men acting like boys and taunting the billy-goat who usually butted someone right in the rear before the night was over.
So where am I going with all of this? I don’t really know. I just seem awash in memories this week so I decided to write some of them down. Like many people, I live in Chester County now, but it isn’t where I started life. And those memories of chasing fireflies and snap pops exploding on a hot summer sidewalk or salt water taffy on the boardwalk or kick the can in the twilight and rounds of Marco Polo in the pool should be remembered fondly once in a while.
In the adult you find the echoes of the child they once were, don’t you? The kaleidoscope doesn’t have to be a crazy twirl, if you let your mind open you too will remember some of what made summers your own as a child.