“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” Pascal Mercier
Summertime and the eating is delicious.
The temperature is rising, but I refuse to complain because garden goodness is bursting forth. This is my season of tomato sandwich subsistence.
If smell is the sense most strongly linked to memory, then taste is a close second. The whiff of a homegrown tomato sends me right back to my childhood wandering out to the garden to pick tomatoes with my Mamaw. Blink and I’m standing on my little kitchen stool as she prepares and plates our lunch that features the tomatoes we’d picked less than 50 feet from the kitchen table. Time is a thief and it sets to fast-forward the older we get.
The simplicity of a well-made tomato sandwich is an art held in high regard in my household. The importance of a real tomato gets discussed often in the off-season. Real is defined as a tomato we either grew ourselves or bought at the farmers market. High value is placed on white bread and Duke’s mayo. The consequences of tomato slicing to salt and pepper prior to building the sandwich. All themes are up for discussion.
You can zhoosh it up however you want. Neither my stomach nor my heart will be turned from the pastoral perfection of real tomatoes, white bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, and a good pre-construction application of salt and pepper. I will die on this hill.
With every bite little girl me remembers sun-dappled days on the farm and supper at that formica table.
Blackberry picking and mindfulness
Where my tomato sandwich lunches ingrained my love of growing my own food, blackberry picking with my Papaw set the stage for my understanding of mindfulness, and the importance of slowing down to just be where you are.
The act of being present and calm while going about your work was my Papaw’s set point. I learned mindfulness from him on a blackberry picking expedition one hot afternoon many years ago when I swung by for a visit to say hello. I meant to pop in without lingering, but he was headed out to pick blackberries.
No need to sugar-coat late teenage/early-twenties me. I was in a hurry, it was hot, and my interest in picking blackberries was slim to none. I had only meant to hug Papaw’s neck and be on my way, but when your grandfather asks you to go blackberry picking, well, you go.
We picked berries slowly and placed them in an old bucket he’d brought up from the basement — a sacred space where he kept the best scuppernong grape juice on the planet. Lord, I miss that grape juice. As we picked my grandfather told me how long the blackberry bush had been there, about the pasture just beyond detailing all the livestock and row crops they’d had over the years, and how old the big Magnolia tree behind us must be by now.
My Papaw was methodical in his approach to berry picking. No, no blackberry would be picked before its time. Farm reminiscing turned his thoughts to stories about my daddy and I was rewarded with a little family lore — the time my dad was swarmed by yellow jackets and how he’d once gotten so sunburned on the tractor he could hardly wear a shirt. One hour later we had a bucketful of blackberries and I had forgotten what it was I was rushing off to. I feel like he knew what he was doing.
Each summer when I see a mess of blackberries, I think of that well spent afternoon.
Blackberry Peach Cobbler
That’s right, I toss both fruits into this cobbler. I like the mix of textures and it makes for a beautiful plate when served. You can use this same recipe for blueberries, strawberries, peaches, blackberries, blackberries and raspberries — mix and match — the combos are as endless as the fruit bounty rolling in. This recipe is from my Mamaw’s big recipe binder and my go-to summer cobbler.
- 5 cups of fruit: Fresh peaches, peeled and diced, plus blackberries (I use 4 cups of peaches and 1 heaping cup of blackberries)
- 1 and 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 and 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (*plus lemon zest for your blackberry mixture)
- 1 cup Milk
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Pour melted butter into a 9×13 glass baking dish, making sure to coat the bottom and sides
- Stir together the blackberries, 1/4 cup of sugar, a pinch of lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a large bowl. Let sit for 25–30 minutes. *Some recipes call for tossing the fruit all together right off, but I like to let the blackberries sit in the lemon sugar mixture — it softens them and brings out the juices so the berry can take on the flavor better.
- Stir together peaches, lemon juice, and cinnamon and 1/4 cup of sugar. Add the blackberry mixture to the peaches after they’ve sat for the 20–30 minute
- Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and milk with a wooden spoon
- Stir in the melted butter last mixing by hand just until the ingredients are incorporated
- Pour the batter into your buttered glass dish and smooth out to an even layer
- Pour the blackberry and peach mixture on top of your batter, making sure to evenly distribute as you pour
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown
*I like to reserve one pretty blackberry for garnish. Important to note that it is a family fact this dessert is best served with homemade vanilla ice cream. If you want to make the mini-cobblers pictured here just reduce your cook time to 30 minutes (or until golden brown) making sure to distribute the butter, batter, and fruit evenly between your containers.
Both of my grandparents believed in the joy of sharing what they grew and made. This recipe is perfect for a lovely take-to-friends summer surprise.
Slow down and enjoy the moment.
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About the author: An Alamance County native, I grew up in Raleigh, married a man from Edenton, and raised a son with footprints across the mountain, piedmont, and coastal regions.
Faithful dogs, collard greens, bluegrass, baiting your own hook, oyster roasts, a good story told well, a festival for every vegetable, sitting a spell to talk, and barbecue rank high on my list of life’s necessities.
My home is the flawless orange glimmer of October light on my father’s Alamance County farm, the crisp aroma of a Chowan County field freshly cut to greet the day, the 30,000 square-foot horticultural palette of produce and plants at the State Farmers Market on Agricultural Street, the cobalt meeting place of heaven and asphalt across the Blue Ridge, the top of Jockey’s Ridge at hushed fading light, the still and storied Cape Fear River, bustling Uptown Charlotte, humming Downtown Raleigh, and Friday night fiddlin’ at Priddy’s General Store. North Carolina is my home.
Regional culture, events and festivals, parks and nature, art and music, fashion and retail, food, farming, and gardening — plus all the creators, doers, makers, shakers, and artisans behind the work — are at the center of my writing career.
I am a storyteller. I can help you tell yours.
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