Had time to do some shopping the other day. It was quite the relief to pay for groceries with cash rather than a credit card.
A few months ago, Jewel's, one of the big food chains here in Chicago, mysteriously stopped carrying Talk O' Texas pickled okra, and started carrying a gourmet brand of pickled okra. In a word, the new one sucked.
Then, just as mysteriously, they started carrying it again. I treated myself to a jar of these little delights.
The other thing I was looking for was hot peppers in vinegar. When I was a kid, my family would travel down to central Louisiana to visit the relatives of my father's stepfather. My dad's step-aunt, Florence, would cook us a great "dinner"-- what they called lunch-- every day. My brothers and I would go back in her enormous garden and pick green beans for our meal. I remember a lot of the dishes that she cooked-- "shelly beans"-- green beans, pinto beans and bacon cooked in vinegar. Pork chops. Fried chicken. Corn bread.
At the end of our trip, we'd drive back to Chicago with several Mason jars of hot peppers Aunt Florence had picked in her garden and pickled in pint Mason jars.
Back in Chicago, my mother would make a dish Aunt Florence had taught her to make. She'd cook up navy beans (also known as Great Northern Beans) with a ham bone and a little salt. She'd serve it over corn bread. You'd sprinkle vinegar from the Mason jar of peppers we'd brought back from Louisiana over it. After the meal, we'd refill the jar with vinegar for the next time. We'd have this dish a few times a year. The jars would last a couple of years, until the next time we went down to Louisiana.
Aunt Florence has been dead for years, but I still have this dish once in a while since I discovered years ago that I could find the pickled peppers in stores in Chicago. I've adapted it a little. In the interest of lower fat consumption, I use turkey ham. And since I have celiac, I have the concoction over brown rice, rather than corn bread (corn bread has wheat flour in it).
Sometimes, when I have this dish, I think of a poem I first read in sixth grade, John Tobias' Reflections On A Gift Of A Watermelon Pickle. It's a poem I've come to understand better as I've become older. The poem is a rumination on a summer long ago with an old friend. The narrator reflects on a summer filled when the purpose of knees were to be skinned, watermelons ruled and unicorns were possible.
I remember those trips to Louisiana-- the sights, smells and sounds of Louisiana and the gentle kindness of Aunt Florence, who I always loved seeing. I remember how those Mason jars of peppers used to seem to stretch those trips to Louisiana out for a couple of years. Whenever I sit down to my adapted Louisiana "dinner," it brings me back to those happy summers.