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  • Betty Girardeau

Cantaloupe And Other Summer Food Memories


While preparing this dish of cantaloupe to have with my smoked salmon salad dinner last night I began to remember how many of my summer memories are connected to melons. Most every summer we packed up the car and headed south to Virginia and South Carolina to spend three or four weeks visiting grandparents. Our visits usually coincided with the best time for summer harvests of melons, peaches, tomatoes, fresh corn, and green beans. So maybe it is not surprising that so many of my memories of these idyllic summers are connected with food. Such memories begin almost as soon as we arrived in Virginia, even before getting to my father's parent's house. These were the days before interstate highways and the drive from our house in the middle of New York State to Waynesboro, Virginia, where my father's parents lived, took a day and a half. We often reached Staunton, Virginia, around dinner time and sometimes would stop there to eat dinner before hitting the road again for the final last couple of hours of the trip at a restaurant there that my sister and I recall being named The Triangle Restaurant. There were a lot of boxwoods decorating the exterior and the floors were brick as I recall, things that still seem particularly unique to Virginia. My parents were huge fans of cantaloupe and always ordered a slice as an appetizer. My sister and I, who were not that fond of melons, were allowed the treat of being able to order iced tea. Thus would begin our summer of southern cuisine. For the next several weeks cantaloupe would be offered almost daily, especially as an opener for breakfast at my grandparent's in South Carolina. They would have stocked up at the local farmer's market before our arrival and stored the melons and tomatoes on a ledge on the screened porch off the kitchen. I can still close my eyes and remember how these sweet, ripe melons made that porch smell. Often there would also be a basket of fresh peaches on that porch, too, heightening the porch's perfume. In Virginia my summer food memory aroma though is that of green beans slow cooked all day with a some ham fat back for flavoring. To this day I still don't think there is a better way to cook them. Both in Virginia and South Carolina, there was usually a big platter of sliced vine ripened tomatoes, those in Virginia having come from my uncle's large garden, where he also grew mouth watering sweet corn. My Mother's sister, Aunt Dinnie, was a wonderful cook and was usually in charge of creating homemade peach ice cream at some point during our visit. I have made peach ice cream myself, but mine never seems to taste as good as I remember hers being. As I remember these long ago summers, it is interesting to realize how fresh garden fruits and vegetables play so much of a part of them, even more surprising because these are childhood memories when play, rather than food, would seem to be more important. But that is not so. It's the food of these summer trips that I remember especially.

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