One of the special things about driving around the back roads and byways of the American South during the summertime, are the random, roadside fruit stands. Forget the new fad about “farm to table” – we’ve been doing this in the South for hundreds of years, and not because it was the hip thing to do, but because it was a necessity.
One of my earliest memories involves sinking my bare feet into the warm, freshly turned soil of my grandparent’s garden. There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking through a garden barefoot and eating strawberries straight from the vine. Or sitting on an old quilt under a mimosa tree feeling the juice from a piece of cantaloupe, freshly picked and sliced, run down your chin.
My grandfather spent a lifetime growing food for his family. When he grew old and no longer had to do it out of necessity, he still kept a garden. Why? Because one of his favorite things to do was to share the results of a good crop with friends and family. He took pride in the time and know-how it took to produce good results. If he had a particularly tasty crop of tomatoes one year, he’d keep some seeds for the following year. Even when he was gone, we still found old seeds he’d kept, just waiting to be planted.
Summertime often found our family sitting outside with a fresh cut watermelon. That was one of the best desserts for a good lunch of fried okra, cream corn, ripe tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. Oh, and iced tea – you had to have plenty of that on hand for the heat. Sitting under an old shade tree with my grandparents, snapping fresh picked beans or shucking corn, provided me with some of my most cherished memories. During those moments, I learned about family and where I came from, as well as the work involved in getting there.
Even today, a family vacation is not complete if we don’t stop by a roadside fruit and veggie stand somewhere in the middle of no where. My Dad’s favorite thing to do is stop by one of the local stands and talk to the folks working there. He likes to know where the fruit came from, as well as when it was picked. It is a successful day when he bites into a cantaloupe or peach that he chose from one of these stands and discovers it is at the perfect ripeness. If he ends up buying too much, he gives it away to the people who work at the hotel or to other guests whom he meets over the free breakfast buffet in the lobby.
I guess he is just continuing to do what his father did and his father before him and on and on, back and back. Why? Because there is no greater gift a farmer can bestow…