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Poppa's Garden

Since my daddy went to be with the Lord in April of this year, life has been very different in more ways than one. Daddy (known as Poppa in our family) loved to laugh and there was never a dull moment when he was around. He was one of those folks who never met a stranger. He loved being outside,he loved fishing and he loved gardening. He taught me how to make potato "hills", stake tomatoes, add just the right amount of fertilizer, till the soil, and a list of other things one must know to be a successful gardener. He showed me how to prune grapevines and make homemade wine from the grapes in his vineyard. Daddy grew up on a farm, so he believed in being self sustainable with food from his own backyard. I sure do miss him, but I am thankful for the fond memories.

Life is full of changes....For the first time in my entire life, we do not have a garden planted on our farm this year. I cannot imagine going an entire summer without homegrown vegetables, but we will make it work. Poppa always took great pride in his garden. He spent hundreds of hours preparing the soil, planting the seeds, pulling weeds and grass, watering, fertilizing and tilling…not to mention the time spent gathering everything once it was ready to “come off” as he would call it. And then there was washing, shelling, slicing, blanching, canning, freezing that he and my mama did each year….Lordy, it makes me tired just thinking about how labor intensive a garden actually is!

Poppa seemed to always have something planted no matter the season. I think in many ways gardening provided a little therapy and he never was one who enjoyed staying inside. He planted his summer garden either on Good Friday or shortly after Easter every year. It was a labor of love to him. I think the thing he loved most was sharing with family and friends. Every time someone would pay them a visit during gardening season, he would send them away with bags of fresh produce.

In the fall there was always a bed of turnips and collards. In very early spring, he planted strawberries, onions, broccoli, and mixed greens. A little later he planted tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, okra, green beans, butter beans, and peppers so they would be ready by mid summer. Of all the plants, onions were his pride and joy. The onions alone took up most of the space in his garden. Why? Because he planted so many of them and he loved to see just how sweet and big they could get! He often had friendly competitions with his cousin in Alabama over who could grow the largest onion. He planted at least 1,000 bulbs each year and he spent countless hours “tickling” them to ensure the dirt was pushed out around the bulb once they began to grow. I have no idea why he called it “tickling”, but basically it means loosening the dirt around the onion so the bulb can grow larger.

Several years ago, Poppa planted over 1,500 bulbs in different varieties of sweet onions. We had so many onions, we had no idea what to do with them. We gave away hundreds of them. He sold some to the local grocery stores, sold them at the farmer’s market and he even opened up his own vegetable stand on the farm and sold them to folks passing by. We still had so many onions left that my sister-in-law and I got a bright idea that we would chop them up and freeze them inside ziplock bags to use in stews, soups and chili later on in the year. Neither of us had ever tried freezing onions before, but it seemed like the most logical thing to do to keep from wasting them. What a terrible idea that was! It was awful! My freezer smelled like onions for six months, even after all the onions had been removed from it!

When I was growing up, I thought gardening was really a pain in the rear because my mama made sure I helped her in it every single day except on Sundays. She always wanted to get the gardening done before it got too hot outside, so we were usually in the garden by 7:00 a.m.. North Carolina has some really hot and humid days during the months of June, July and August which is prime gardening season in the south. That is not where I wanted to spend my summer mornings that is for sure. My mama worked hard canning everything we picked each day. Our basement was always filled with canned vegetables that we ate throughout the year. And let me tell ya, nothing beats a jar of home grown tomatoes simmering inside a pot of mama’s vegetable soup during the middle of January!

I look at gardening a bit differently now. Homegrown vegetables and fruits that are free of chemicals just simply taste better, not to mention the health benefits. Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, it is hot, sticky, sweaty, bend your knees kind of work….Did I say it was a lot of work? Aside from the work, sweat, tired feet, and sore muscles, gardening can be quite rewarding. I love watching the plant grow from a seed and produce food for our family. Tomatoes are my favorite. There is nothing like a homegrown tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise slathered across each slice of Old Fashioned Merita bread with plenty of salt and pepper! YUM!! And that is a taste that cannot be replicated with tomatoes purchased at a grocery store. It just doesn’t happen!

I thought I would share a few dishes this weekend that use some of our garden favorite ingredients. Today’s recipe is a Hot Corn Jalapeno Dip with Caramelized Vidalia Onions. So while you are at it, grab a bag of tortilla chips and a glass of sweet tea. This stuff is addictive, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

You may also like to try this Warm Collard Green Dip. This has lots of flavor from bacon, cheese and collard greens and is delicious served with crispy cornbread, tortilla chips, corn chips or toast.

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