The supply of last summer’s corn, butter beans, purple-hull peas, field peas, green beans and speckled butter beans that my wife and I put away in the freezer is starting to dwindle.
Before the first batch of North Florida or South Georgia corn makes its way to local fruit-and-vegetable stands, we’ll resort to buying commercial products, which I doubt are as safe or as tasty as the corn I shuck, brush, wash and then cut off the cob. My wife will then blanch the corn, beans, peas or whatever summer fruit or vegetables we put away. We can never put away enough summer vegetables, which are expected and important side dishes in most Georgia homes.
Side dishes made from summer vegetables like corn, beans and peas are, in fact, comfort foods, just like macaroni and cheese. They do the job they were created to do — support the main entrée.
My grandmother canned summer vegetables the old-fashioned way in mason jars. I could never tell the difference from fresh veggies. Freezing vegetables is easier, but there’s a risk of power failure spoiling the fruit of your labor. After six or eight months in the freezer, there’s also a risk your veggies could get freezer burn.
It would be a shame to waste a quart of cream-style corn, which God so graciously gave us to go with fried chicken, green (also called string) beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. The cream-style corn I grew up loving was a mixture of yellow (also called feed) corn and white (also called sweet) corn.
My mama learned to mix these varieties from her mama. Just as she gleaned farmers’ fields for turnips and mustards, my widowed grandmother took what corn she could get and made it absolutely delicious by seasoning it with salt, pepper and bacon grease. My mama followed her recipe to the letter.
When I’m not able to find the relatively new hybrid corn called “peaches & cream,” I also mix yellow and white corn. But when my wife cooks corn, she tries to watch my salt intake and replaces the bacon grease with Hormel’s Real Bacon Bits. It works for me, as I simply add sea salt and more black pepper as soon I get my plate to the table.
Anyone who has ever canned or frozen corn knows that when you’ve got all your quart-size jars or freezer containers filled, you’ll inevitably have a little left over that’ll barely fill a half-pint jar. Keep it; you can add this little bit of corn (with bacon bits) to your butter beans, cooking them together. This flavor combination that my wife learned from her mama is incredible, especially when supporting a fresh-baked ham, chicken or turkey, or a juicy beef roast.
Okra was the one summer vegetable even my grandmother was unable to can and then take out several months later to be fried to crispy perfection. Oh, she’d can okra as part of a vegetable-soup base that included tomatoes, onions, beans and corn, but even with all her culinary wisdom, Gra’mama couldn’t make okra last past the summer growing season. I had to enjoy it while it still was growing in her garden.
Those who’ve never had fried fresh okra can only imagine what heaven must taste like. For my wife and me, a pound or more is necessary for a single meal. She washes it then chops off both ends. She then slices each pod in half-inch-thick pieces, which she salts and peppers and then rolls in a mixture of corn meal and all-purpose flour.
They’re not caked in batter like the commercial brands; there is just enough batter sticking to each chunk of okra to give it a crispy crust when quick-fried in canola oil. As soon as all the chunks are brown, scoop them from the oil and place in a bowl lined with paper towels. Your okra is ready to serve with cream-style corn, fried chicken and ’taters.