Up here in the mountains of Southern California, lots of plants grow. At our elevation of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, fir trees, oaks, dogwoods, wildflowers, and even daffodils and tulips grow. But not vegetables. I've tried 'em. Oh, you can occasionally find the odd person who tends tomatoes or peppers in a terra cotta pot, but the truth is, you need long hours of sunshine and flat land to grow crop vegetables. Land with rich soil and good drainage. The kind of land you find stretching across Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, the Carolina's and deep into Texas.
The Southern states produce healthy, vibrant bushels of beans, berries, and other crops, and the fruits and vegetables themselves seem to have as much genuine personality as the people that grow, harvest and sell them. The tomatoes can be as warm and plump as Santa Claus, and seemingly just as jolly. The peaches almost purr, and the corn virtually explodes out of the husks, like a growing youngster in summer bursting out of his or her seams.
If you've ever taken a road trip across the South and stopped to visit with folks at produce stands, gas stations and diners, you know that the phrase "Southern hospitality" grew out of actual practice. Butter Beans to Blackberries reads like a road trip across the American South—because in essence, it is. Ronni Lundi, a native of Kentucky who speaks with a charming Southern cadence, wrapped up years of road trips in one book, taking the reader along with her to meet these kind (and usually colorful) folk and share their homegrown crops and family recipes. Along the way, she pulls the whole collection together with her own spirited recollections and recipes.
Even though I don't find the same Southern produce readily in my local market, reading through Butter Beans to Blackberries takes me off this mountain and into another place. I know exactly what Ronni means when she writes, "Legendary Southern hospitality can't wait for somebody to run to the store but must rise spontaneously from the big chair on the screened-in porch, spread its arms wide, grin, and say, 'Come on in. You all hungry?' " and without waiting for an answer, these Southerners will embrace you with that ever-present brick of cream cheese mixed with spicy jelly and crackers, or a feast that would make a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving look like squirrel food.
Every story, sidebar, tip and recipe in Butter Beans to Blackberries has life, and that's what makes this great reading. It seems appropriate to enjoy this book outdoors, in the sunshine, sipping a tall glass of lemony iced tea or a citrus julep, all wet and glisteny on the outside of the glass. My house doesn't have a screened in porch, but we do have a large wooden deck with a huge view, and a few big stuffed chairs. If I close my eyes and the breeze blows warm, I can almost pretend I'm there, smelling the aroma of fresh corn fritters deep-frying, or hot blackberry cobbler cooling on the counter.
I may never take a road trip through the South, but if I do, I'll make a point of viz'tin some of these folks. The appendix includes a directory of Places to Go, such as Pink and George's Produce on Edisto Island (South Carolina), or the Sorghum Festival, hosted by the Blairsville (Georgia) Jaycees. And I actually can sample some of the products these folks make through the mail-order listings contained in the book. I've already made a wish list of everything from artichoke relish to fresh butter beans and sweet potato chips. With the real thing in my hand, and Ronni's words in my brain, I'll be taking a couple weeks off to enjoy the bounty of the South this summer. Come on in, and join me.
Butter Beans to Blackberries:
Recipes from a Summer Garden
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created July 1999
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