Gifts of summer: Peaches, green beans and a ghost

Around here, we’ve been mellow.  Haven’t gone back yet to my usual schedule–the girls and my brain needed a rest.  I’ve been haunting the farmer’s markets, gardening, going to Nia, and working with the bounty from summer gardens.  Don’t you love summer food? 

One day this week, I ambled around the markets, picking up plums and peaches for jam, a melon I’ve never tried, ears of fresh corn, and fresh green beans.  I’m largely indifferent to green beans–I don’t dislike them, but there are so many other vegetables I love that I’ve never bothered to cook them.

But there they were, gigantic bins full of them, looking so robust and full of vitality that they simply insisted they had to come home with me.  I was sure I had recipes somewhere at home, and at worst, I could steam them.  I left the Farmer’s Market and stopped in the regular grocery store on the way home for sugar and lemons.  There were green beans here, too, and standing over them, tossing back as many as she chose, was a woman in her late seventies.  She had a scooter grocery cart next to her, and oyxgen running to her nose, but she looked hearty, softly plump. Her hair was a luxurious silver, combed and shiny to her shoulders.  Something about her called me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Can I ask you how you cook green beans?”

She looked up, surprised that someone was talking to her, I think.  Pretty eyes. A great beauty in her time, I suspect, still tidy in her pink boating shirt and white slacks.  “Oh, honey, I’m from the South. My way isn’t the way they do it around here.”

“That’s fine. I just don’t know how to cook them. Tell me your way.”

“String them first, of course,” she said (and I thought, I don’t know how to do that, either, but I bet the Internet will tell me), “and then put them in a pot with water just covering them.  I put in two slices of bacon and then chop an onion over the top, and cook ’em for an hour.” 

My mouth watered. I know about green beans like that. “Sounds wonderful!”

She nodded, then held a hand close to her mouth and confided with some disgust, “Around here, they cook ’em in olive oil and only for about ten minutes. They’re crunchy!”

I had already bought some beans, but I filled a bag with more to show her I meant it when I said, “I’m going to try it your way. Thank you.”

“Oh, thank you!” she said. 

And there was my grandmother, standing with her, smiling. 

I put my bag of green beans in my cart, rounded the corner and suddenly discovered I had tears streaming down my face, pierced as one sometimes is, by a reminded of a beloved other who has moved on. They’re fine, on the other side, but on this plane, I missed her sharply.  It was all I could do to get out of the grocery store without looking like a complete idiot.  (Lucky for me, I have very large, very dark sunglasses.)

So last night, I cooked a pile of green beans in bacon, and made some cornbread, and that was my entire dinner.  And it was good.

I’ve also made some plum jam and plan to try peach next week.  We’ve been eating corn nearly every day, and I’ve had so many cherries I’m going to turn bright red. 

What have you been feasting on? How’s your summer going?

13 thoughts on “Gifts of summer: Peaches, green beans and a ghost

  1. Sewicked

    I have fond memories of snapping fresh string beans with my grandmother & aunt. Some were canned and some were fixed for supper.

  2. Debbie Mekler

    I love your story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Erin S

    I love this, Barbara. It sounds like both of you got something you needed out of the interaction.

    We’ve been feasting on steamed greens this summer. Mixes of collards and kale and turnip greens, lightly steamed, then tossed with olive oil and Braggs or tamari.

    But I’m from the South, too, and I’m not above tossing a few slices of bacon in every now and then just for kicks. 🙂

  4. Sharyn

    I love fresh green beans, generally just steam them until they’re barely done. Sometimes I’ll add slivered almonds.

    My mother used to open a can of green beans and then cook them in water and bacon grease for half an hour. As if canned wasn’t cooked enough!

    And, yum…corn on the cob! We were supposed to get bi-color corn in our organic box yesterday, so I got a lovely big steak out of the freezer to go with it…and when I unpacked the box there was no corn! I’d been tasting it all day…so today at the grocery store I got corn on the cob. Not organic, but still corn…steak/corn/baked potatoes/salad tomorrow for dinner.

  5. I have to admit the idea of cooking green beans for an hour makes me shudder. Too many memories of over cooked vegetables as a child.

  6. Green beans are some of my favorite vegetable. When I was a kid I used to eat them raw from the bush — delicious, and I still eat them that way. I’ll serve blanched green beans to eat with a dip like Bagna Cauda (a rich olive oil, garlic and anchovy hot dip) And I love them in salads. I steam green beans until they’re only just cooked (still with a slight crunch – maybe 5-8 minutes) then plunge the hot beans into a salad dressing of lemon juice, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil. Yum. Also an Italian style way of cooking them is to make a tomatoey sauce (from fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil) and do the same thing, adding a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and fresh ground black pepper..

  7. Yvonne Erwin

    Oh Barb, first of all, my summer is going wonderfully, graciously even. Your post about the green beans is marvelous for me. Here,in our beloved Springfield, we do have a farmers market, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Battlefield Mall parking lot. As I am at work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have become a devotee to the Saturday morning market.

    Simply said, I love the Farmers Market. It cannot be beat. I never knew what color the insides of a tomato should be until the farmers market. Red, really? Wow, how red is that!! And the flavor, oh, my goodness, I am so ashamed to say I did not understand tomatoes until now. Moving on, I did not know what eggplant or freash sweet corn or cantelope really tasted like until the farmers market. Total supporter of the farmers market, that is me. I bet that at least a third of my grocery budget is spent there on a Saturday morning, as I pace back and forth between booths, inspecting produce, comparing prices, as the sun rises higher and higher, here in the humid Ozarks….And, by the way, I do have three gallon bags of green beans, from the farmers market, in my freezer, as we speak.

    Now, we have a lot of Amish farmers in our area, and, they do participate/sell at the farmers market. Wonderful to find these families, whole families, in their black garb and long sleeves, and beards, booths all set up, helping me select my produce. They are not so backward as they once were, or maybe as we thought they once were. They do now speak to “outsiders”, the sleeves are now 3/4 length, rather than full length and they have incorporated blue into their wardrobe, not just black. AND, the thing I find most refreshing, is that they TALK to us, the outsiders, about their wares. I find them to be my friends and allies, not just produce merchants. They know so much; I wish they would share it with the rest of us, sometimes. But, in the alternative, I will ask, why this color or that, why this strain or that one, what about that over there? They always oblige; but I know that I am not one of them, and could never be. But, I glean what I know from them.

    I love green beans and potatoes with fried chicken in the summertime. I don’t know how other people make it but, I start with a couple strips of bacon and then I drop my chopped onions in and make a white sauce with a hint of nutmeg and then my potatoes and green beans go in. Well, there are other steps and maybe I’m mixing it up right now but those are the basics. It’s up to interpretation, really. I make it a lot. And I love it. It’s gorgeous, on so many levels. What a wonderful,farmhouse, real America smell that is…

    At any rate, I am a fan of the farmers market, always will be…Today, I brought home peaches, blackberries, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn and a big, fat cantelope that smells really yummy sitting on my countertop.

    Thank you for your post, Barb. As a fan of fresh produce and the farmers market, I say, salut.

  8. Great comments, everyone! I hear you, Erin, on the boiled-to-death veggies. (The English often do this, too, you notice?) But every now and again, it’s a luscious thing.

    Anne, I’ve never eaten them raw. Must try that!

  9. Yvonne, what an evocative post! I think you could do some writing on that.

  10. HB

    Lovely post and comments. Any idea what a veggie could substitute for the bacon? I mainly use green beans only in stir frys and soups but I’d like to make as a full dish but wouldn’t use bacon. Ideas?

  11. I have a wonderful recipe for green beans…I can eat the whole pan full this way. Start with a can of green beans (I like french cut), (I know, I know fresh is better but when you can’t get them…canned will do in a pinch),drain, then put in a pan. In a bowl a small can of peeled tomatoes, pop the tomatoes with your fingers and squish, squish, squish and place in pot with green beans. Add some fresh onion (minced dried will work too), bacon bits, onion powder and just a smidge of garlic. Salt and pepper to taste and cook until everything is soft and the smell is driving you crazy….*grin*

    Damn, wish I could make this today but as I am in the process of moving (read as finishing up the packing) back to Colorado (woohooooooo!) I have all my pots and pans packed and am almost ready for the movers.

  12. HB, my friend makes them with olive oil and a LOT of lemon, and they’re delicious. Or if you want some rich treat, maybe hollandaise would be good. For that super-salty punch that bacon lends, not sure what would work. There must be something! Readers?

    (Did you see the Top Chef Masters last week, when they all had to cook for vegans? The vegans were so unused to eating really astonishingly good food that they were practically weeping over the dishes the chefs presented–some of them were just to die for.)

  13. What a wonderful post! I love that you picked up on so many details about this woman in such a short amount of time–and remembered them!

    Summer food loves: zucchini and summer squash and red peppers, chopped with onions and garlic, sprinkled with curry and Lawry’s and pepper, and placed in an aluminum packet on the grill with–yes–some olive oil and sometimes lemon juice. 🙂 We also have a regional dish around here called spiedies, which is marinated meat (99.9% of the time it’s chicken), chunked and skewered, and cooked on the grill, then served on a slice of Italian bread. I could care less about the bread, really, but I love spiedies and grilled veggies.

    For some stupid reason, I missed Top Chef Masters last week, but I’m hoping to catch up this week.

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