Ray Elliott/Voices | Summertime livin' and eatin' at its best

Ray Elliott/Voices | Summertime livin' and eatin' at its best

By RAY ELLIOTT

"It's summertime and the livin's easy" is a line from one of my favorite songs. And summertime is probably my favorite season. There isn't much I don't like about it. The reason that comes to mind right now is fresh vegetables.

The garden planted in early spring starts to produce its delicious bounty in summer. According to what you like, you can enjoy a variety of the freshest-tasting vegetables you could ever want.

White icicle radishes are my favorite. When they're cleaned and washed, there's nothing better with any meal than those radishes dipped in salt. Personally, I like to dip them in salt from one of the old-fashioned salt dishes like my grandmother used. Tastes better somehow.

Now if you like lettuce, you're in luck, too. Some people like fresh-picked lettuce wilted in hot apple cider vinegar, bacon grease and a touch of sugar. And it's not bad, really. But I prefer to take fresh lettuce, wash it in cold water and pile it on a peanut butter sandwich.

If your garden is planted as the summer clips along, you can have most anything you want for weeks. The onions have been in the ground for quite a while, if you haven't picked them all to eat as green onions.

It's the large onions, sliced and put together with fresh-sliced cucumbers in vinegar and water that I like best. Salted, of course. They compliment any dinner well. For a snack, there's nothing better than a large Bermuda onion, sliced and salted and put on a bread and butter — real butter, please, none of that slick, tasteless margarine — sandwich. It may be better if you have a cast-iron stomach. I don't know.

Tomatoes have got to be next. The first vine-ripened tomatoes of the summer are difficult to beat. What I always liked to do as a kid was walk through the garden and spot a really red, ripe, juicy one, pluck it from the vine, wipe it off a little and eat it right there. And yes, I carried the salt shaker with me.

All the fresh tomatoes taste good, but they don't compare with that first one. Some people make the mistake of putting them in the refrigerator, though.

That'll ruin the taste of a tomato quicker than about anything I know. So just slice hot tomatoes and put them on the table with your favorite meal. I even like them with bacon and eggs in the morning. They just start the day off the way it should be started.

Green beans come along when you're ready for them and not a minute sooner. I think I like wax beans the best. But any kind of fresh green beans cooked with bacon grease and some onion chips tastes so much better than store-bought beans that I sometimes wonder if they're even the same thing.

Moving beyond the green beans in the garden but at about the same time, the peas ripen and bulge in their pods. When they do, you cheat a little and dig a bunch of new potatoes even before they bloom if you have to. Just as long as you get the potatoes. All you do then is skin the potatoes and de-pod the peas, cook them together in a thick, rich, cream sauce. A little salt and pepper tops them off just fine.

And finally: Yeah, finally because it's the pinnacle of the summer. It's the World Series of garden eating. That's when the corn starts coming on, filling out into large yellow ears. (I like white corn well enough, but I especially like the Peaches and Cream variety with both yellow and white kernels.) Nothing like it if you eat it right. I love to take the freshly roasted or boiled corn and dip it in melted butter — again real butter, please, if you don't want to spoil the taste — salt and pepper four rows, add a glob of butter for good measure and eat the four rows across horizontally with one vicious gnawing.

OK, so I'm an enthusiastic garden eater who likes his salt and real butter. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. And don't quit until you've eaten four or five ears that way.

At the end of the summer, if you're lucky, you can have at least one meal with all your favorites. I personally can't imagine anything better than a meal consisting of corn on the cob — roastin' ears we used to call them — sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, creamed potatoes and peas, green beans and white radishes.

Yeah, in the summertime, "the livin's easy" and the eatin's great.

Ray Elliott is an author and a former high school teacher who lives in rural Urbana. His email address is rayelliott23@att.net.

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