Summertime means pure, palatable joy

June 20, 2014 

There is a bend in the road along U.S. 41, where you turn through the gates at the state farmer’s market in Cordele.

A friend once told me that in the summertime you don’t need a map to get there. Just follow the busted melons on the road. They are like bread crumbs when they fall off the trucks on the way to market.

I was at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago. With the benefit of local knowledge, I was directed to the sheds in the back, where you can buy the melons right off the trucks.

I pulled up and rolled down my window. A man with more fingers than teeth appeared and asked how many I wanted. “Give me two,” I said.

He took my seven bucks and lifted the giant melons off a flatbed truck. They were varying shades of green with long stripes. They had been sitting in a field the day before.

I thumped the rinds approvingly. You never know what you’re getting with watermelons. It’s a roll of the dice ... until you slice. They could be mushy or so full of seeds you will spit more than chew.

For the record, they were delicious. My mother said it was the best watermelon she had ever eaten. And why not? Cordele is the self-proclaimed “Watermelon Capital of the World” and is celebrating the 65th annual Watermelon Days Festival leading up to the Fourth of July.

I know I have managed to make your mouth water in 250 words or less, but there’s plenty more. If you were to ask me to list my favorite things about summer – and we are now officially two days into it -- the top reason would be reserved for the rich bounty of the earth.

Lovers of fruits and vegetables are in the right place. Between our fresh local strawberries in April, and the scuppernongs and muscadines of late summer and early fall, we have four months of pure and palatable joy.

Here is my Gris Bliss List, a countdown of my summer favorites. (I invite you to rank your own.)

10. Peppers. When someone gives you a sack of peppers picked from their garden, it is a sign of true friendship.

9. Strawberries. We try to attend the Strawberry Festival in Reynolds in April. When the strawberry crop gives out, there’s usually enough blueberries and blackberry patches around to keep us happy.

8. Squash. (Zucchini wins approval, too.) The key to our hearts goes through our stomachs, and a squash casserole can provide instant popularity.

7. Cantaloupes. I feel guilty when I buy them at the grocery store during the winter months, and the sticker says, “Product of Guatemala.” I cheat only because I can’t wait until they start coming out of the fields in Wilcox County. And now they are finally here. Rejoice and be thankful.

6. Whiteacre peas. Or field peas. Or lady peas. Or zipper peas. Whatever you call them, I could eat them ‘round the clock. When they are cooking on the stove, the aroma reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen in Hawkinsville. And that’s a beautiful memory.

5. Silver Queen corn. Any sweet corn is appreciated, but silver queen wins the people’s choice award at Casa de Gris. I’ve roasted ears on the grill, but three minutes on high in the microwave (with the husks on) is surprisingly the best method. (And quicker, too.)

4. Watermelons. Bring them to me red, ripe, juicy and cold. Life is good.

3. Vidalia onions. They are a staple of almost every delicious dish in almost every Southern cookbook. Their sweet arrival in mid-April is an assurance summer is on the way. I’ve known folks who eat them like apples.

2. Peaches. I’ve had two sons work at Dickey Farms in Musella in summers past, so I have become somewhat of an authority on clingstones, freestones and delicious peach ice cream. Middle Georgia is at the epicenter of the finest peaches in the Peach State.

1. Tomatoes. The ones we buy in February taste like cardboard. By May, they have improved enough to tease us and tempt us. Then comes June, and back yards begin producing God’s greatest gift to taste buds. A good tomato is better than silver and gold.

Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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