When summer really arrived

By Rick Houser – 

There is a song that has been around since the late 1800’s titled “In the Good Ole Summertime.” With a song like that it was always safe to assume that summer was either coming or here. But just when is it really and truly summertime? The calendar says it arrives somewhere between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year. This is when the summer solstice arrives and gives us our longest day of daylight that the year can deliver.
That is how it is defined in our science books, but farmers look at it differently. Farmers feel that summer has arrived when all their crops are planted and starting their growth towards maturity. This announces to them that the growing season is under way, so really the calendar doesn’t necessarily tell us when summer is here. But I think the majority of us feel that summertime is when our favorite produce comes from the garden and we get to enjoy that first taste of a garden fresh vegetable.
My wife and I were talking about this just a few days ago and we agree on the garden fresh, first taste. However, we do disagree on just which vegetable sends the signal to us that summer has arrived in full season. For her, to have a nice green bell pepper in her kitchen is a positive sign. However, when that first big plump bright red tomato is in her grasp and she can slice it up on a plate next to a side of cottage cheese, well that’s apretty good sign too. I like tomatoes also but I am not nearly as fond of them as she is. My joy is putting the plants in the ground and if all goes well growing successfully that big plump red tomato. Pride in gardening is still alive and many folks can raise a garden even on limited space.
I have told you what my wife likes, and now it is my turn. To me summer has not totally arrived until a stock pot of water is boiling on the stove and we are shucking the very first ears of fresh sugar corn in preparation to drop into that and we have our first taste of corn on the cob. When an ear of corn comes straight from your garden to your plate dripping in butter, all of what makes summer wonderful becomes complete.
After that there is only one other perfect sign of summer’s arrival and that is when a big ripe oblong-looking watermelon that has been chilled until the juices within taste chillingly leaves that sweet and sticky mess that we all all so fond of.
Growing up we always had a lot of sugar corn and once that first batch was served we ate corn on the cob almost every day until late fall. I don’t remember ever growing tired of working my way first around the ends of a cob and then about three rows of kernels long ways down the ear until the job was completed and the cob was empty. I always had a mess of butter drooling on my face but hey, this was corn on the cob and neatness rules no longer applied.
To the best of my knowledge Dad wasn’t very good at growing watermelon when we lived on the farm but in those days there were what we called truck farmers. These men would drive the countryside with produce from their gardens for sale. When summer was in full stride, their truck would carry lots of huge ripe melons and would stop at the house to see if we cared to buy at least one.
I can recall one particular Sunday afternoon when all the family was at our house and we were all outside when the truck pulled up. My Grandpa Houser looked to us all and said if we wanted a melon he would splurge and spend the 60 cents for it. We were totally in awe that he would spring for a melon at such a high price, but there was one catch and that was that he got to pick which melon after he got a sample taste.
The men selling would take their pocket knives and carve a small wedge in what they knew were dead ripe melons to sample, assuring that the taster wouldn’t be able to resist. My Grandpa was sharp enough not to taste the chosen one, but instead would take a wedge from the one he was planning to buy. With some hesitation, they agreed to let him do that. When he tasted, he smiled and said that it was delicious and handed them all that money. As the truck pulled away, my Grandpa looked to us all and proudly told us all that he was so good at picking watermelons and he never had a doubt it that he had the best one. I do recall getting a second slice and it was “sooooooo” good.
I am sure that each of us has something that comes to the forefront of our memory that tells us when summer has undeniably arrived. From a bright red tomato to a ripe red watermelon, from a big green bell pepper to an ear of silver queen sugar corn- those signals that the long, sunny, warm days of summer are upon us. If a person doesn’t have the time or space to raise a garden, there are still several truck farmers who are set up along the highways or on a street corner that can help you with the ingredients to prepare meals that will bring forth the fresh taste of a new vegetable. Full of taste and flavor and ready to signal how well summer not only feels, but tastes.
To me there isn’t a better time of the year than summer, to not only get the rays from the sun and not pay for the heat, but to inhale those fresh produce fragrances. Nope, it doesn’t get any better than that. Like the song says, “In the Good Ole Summertime!”