I was raised in a small, rural town in Illinois.
No, really, I mean small. No stoplight. Main street is one large paved asphalt road – with no center line. My college dorm housed more people than the town I was raised in. Small.
And it was rural. My dad’s family farmed. In the early days (when my dad was young), the farm included livestock. In my early childhood, there were still some cattle and pigs. By my adolescence, we were only farming: wheat, corn, and soybeans.
I didn’t live on ‘the farm’. I lived ‘in town’. If you haven’t lived in a rural area, you would call where I lived ‘the farm’ also. But those of us from rural areas understand that there is a difference.
My parents were teachers, which meant that my dad’s summer job was working on the farm. As we kids got older, we got to help with things like walking beans. Bear with me here if you have walked beans or de-tassled corn. Amazingly, some people have never held these jobs.
Walking beans is just what is says: you walk the field of beans, with a tool in hand, and cut out the weeds. This leaves a beautifully ‘clean’, weed-free bean field behind. The pay is good, too, when your work is just so-so and grandpa is your boss. (I have no idea who thought kids should be left virtually alone in a field with weapons such as these – it’s amazing no one lost a digit)
I have tons of memories from these days. I dream alot about the farm and my grandparents house.
But, as I’ve gotten older, most of my memories are stirred from work I do in the kitchen.
I’ll share with you my favorite.
My grandma always cooked a HUGE starch filled meal at lunchtime when all the men came in from the field. The protein varied – and there wasn’t much of it – but there was plenty of homemade noodles, corn and mashed potatoes. Also white bread and real butter and homemade sweet tea. All designed to fill your belly until dinner. (my mouth is watering)
Then the evening meal came and went with little fanfare. Maybe a cold sandwich. But I can distinctly remember grandma standing at the kitchen sink cutting a garden fresh tomato into thick slices onto a small dinner plate. She would put a bit of salt on it – stand at the sink – and eat it.
I THOUGHT THIS WAS CRAZY! How in the world could she call that dinner. Who in the world could eat a tomato as their whole meal. What’s with the salt. I just didn’t get it.
I would say every other day now in the summer, this is what my plate looks like:
What Have I Learned: A thick-sliced, homegrown tomato is all you need for a great meal.