Sitting here, late in the evening, with our new dog Abbey sleeping by my feet, I’m reading a wonderful article on Bourbon & Boots called Top Ten Southern Pies & Cobblers. As I’m reading through the ten distinctly Southern pies & cobblers they’ve chosen to list, I’m reminded of my childhood. So many of my childhood memories are all tied up with food. I suppose this is an inherently Southern thing.
One of my favorite memories from growing up was playing in our next door neighbor’s “tree house.” I say “tree house” in quotes rather than tree house because, unlike our rather rudimentary tree house that consisted of a wide plank of wood wedged into the crotch of the Chinaberry tree in our backyard, our next door neighbors had a “tree house” that was a two story Taj Mahal compared to our set-up. But, it was next to their tree, not in it, so, “tree house” it was. Our next door neighbors’ dad had the forethought to build their Taj Mahal “tree house” right next to a beautiful, fully mature red plum tree. Every summer my brother and I would foresake our crummy little tree house and go next door (through the convenient gate between our yards that our dads installed one summer so we’d quit wasting electricity by going in & out of our respective houses) to play in theirs’…and eat plums fresh off their tree. If you’ve never had a red plum fresh off a tree, still warm from the summer sun, wiped “clean” on your shirt, juice running down your arms, off your elbows, you’ve never really lived.
Another memory that particularly stands out from my childhood also involves the summer and my beloved Granddaddy. My grandparents came down to the Gulf Coast from West Texas pretty much every summer of my childhood. The neighborhood where we lived still had vacant lots towards the back where all the kids played & rode their bikes. Some of the lots had names based on the features of the lots (given by the kids, of course), like “The Dirt Place”, “Glass Hill”, etc. Along the edge of The Dirt Place was a huge (or it seemed huge when we were kids) field of wild blackberries. Every now and then we’d come home from riding our bikes with the tell tale signs of having sampled the goodies the field had to offer, but, with shorts and sandals on, no kid in their right mind would venture very far beyond the edge of the field. (Blackberries have thorns, dontcha know?) One late Summer afternoon, Granddaddy suggested that we put on blue jeans & long sleeves, get butter dishes from Mom and go get enough blackberries that we could make a cobbler with and maybe enough left that Mom could can a jar or two of preserves. Climbing into those blackberry brambles with Granddaddy was an adventure. We found luscious berries the size of a grown man’s thumb. My brother and I, of course, turned it into a competition (everything was a competition between us…still is) to see who could find the largest berry. When we got home, we were hot, itchy, purple fingered and loaded down with berries. We enjoyed the fruits of our labors after dinner that night with bowls of fresh blackberries with “good milk”, as we called (it was really evaporated milk). To this day, blackberries are my favorite berry, and one of my favorite ingredients in a cobbler.
The only other thing I’d rather have in a cobbler than blackberries are cherries. Nearly every July as a kid, I spent in West Texas with my grandparents. My parents would pop me on a plane, fly me to Lubbock and I’d spend 2 weeks with each, paternal and maternal, since both lived within 30 minutes of each other. My maternal grandparents, Momoh and Granddaddy, lived just East of Lubbock on a 1 acre piece of land that seemed huge when I was a kid. My Granddaddy, a machinist by trade, was a farmer at heart. He could grow anything. He had a garden going for every season, had an orchard with assorted fruit and nut trees and, seeing as to how he and my Grandmother were children of the Depression and Dust Bowl & knew how bad the West Texas wind could get, he cultivated a wind break out of cedar trees around his property to keep his top soil from blowing away & protect his crops. My favorite part of their whole farm were the cherry trees that grew out in front of their house. Momoh would send me outside with a butter dish (always with the butter dish, my family never throws away a Country Crock butter dish) and tell me to fill it up so we could make a cherry cobbler or, sometimes she’d save the little pie tins that pot pies used to come in, and we’d make individual sized cherry pies (ostensibly so she could teach me how to make pie crust). She knew I’d eat way more than I’d bring in but that never seemed to bother her. Those sweet and tart cherries, fresh off the tree, still warm from the sun have completely spoiled me, even to this day. I still prefer tart flavors to sweet and can’t stomach a processed cherry (marachino cherries make me want to gag). Every summer we spent plucking those ruby red jewels from those trees until one summer the trees were gone…well, not gone but dead. The county had come along and sprayed weed killer in the ditch on the other side of the trees, it leached into the groundwater and killed the trees. I still mourn the loss of those trees.
So many memories tied up with food, food that I went out and got myself, food that I helped turn into a dessert with my mom or my grandmother. I wonder, will my daughter and her generation have the same advantages? My parents don’t live on a farm. Aidan isn’t growing up in a neighborhood where all the kids know each other and play with each other until the street lights come on. What kind of food memories will she have?
What are your favorite, most beloved food memories? I’d love it if you shared one or some with me in the comments.