Glorious July Miracles…

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Just when the heat of July slows me down to a southern drawl… a miracle happens. It sneaks up on me every year. When hydrangea blossoms look like tight pincurls, when roses sulk- fed up with the humidity; the front porch ferns whine for church fans and ice water; even impatiens lay down their heads and weep…that’s when the Glory Bower trees quietly begin to bloom.

Hummingbird wings whir around her. Butterflies flitter on her pale green shoulders. Fat bumblebees stir slowly around her like plump fairy godmothers- coaxing the lacy summer ballgown onto Glory. Her ladies in waiting, the Crepe Myrtles, have on shocking pink and raspberry corsages. But Glory is a real Southern Belle, never breaks a sweat, not one bead of perspiration. Glory Bower trees put down deep roots- they are my sweet homebodies, staying close to the windows so I can chaperone and gaze as the Miracle of July unfolds.

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When every other flowery thing begins to close up shop for harvest, the Glory Bower is just getting started; dabbed with honeysuckle fragrance, she’s a subtle reminder of another July Miracle– one that got her start, early one sunny summer morning in July. Like the Glory Bower she seems to thrive on sunshine but her real secret is her deep roots close to home. A fifth generation southern belle of St. Clair County, she is named for her father and grandfather. She is a true miracle. Before her mother turned twenty the doctors said she would never bear a child. After seven long years of waiting…this child was born, a true blue miracle. Even the doctors said to her momma and daddy- ‘Take her home and enjoy her, you’ll never have another one.’ She was so tiny, her long name didn’t seem to fit so she was nicknamed for the southern sunshine she was born under. Her momma sang ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ as she rocked her miracle on the porch swing. Her daddy played his guitar and sang his baby girl to sleep to-‘You are My Sunshine’. The pediatrician noted the baby hardly had a hair on her head but made up for it by having the longest eyelashes he had ever seen; a neighbor said- ‘It’s a sign of good breeding when a baby is bald headed’…her momma just smiled and made batiste bonnets with ruffles and lace.

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She could talk before she could walk at ten months! She was a born teacher-lining up dolls and stuffed toys, she would ‘teach school’ when she was barely three years old. Her teachers  remarked that her ‘sunny name’ suited her just right! Always an honor student, with a beautiful voice that was rivaled only by her skill on the clarinet, she was voted, ‘Friendliest’ in high school, and graduated with full honors from college, before earning her masters degree in education. She grew up so fast her parents felt as if she blinked her long eyelashes and was all grown up! She has taught hundreds of school children how to read and to love school like she always did. She is a fine Southern lady and a wonderful teacher! Camellia’s Cottage can’t imagine life around here without children in it- we’re glad she’s one of them.

If you ever find yourself wondering if God still performs miracles just look to the Glory Bower tree, which miraculously blooms so cool and sweet in the heat of a July summer and remember our July miracle.  Today’s her birthday, join us in wishing her a day filled with sunshine, the faint fragrance of honeysuckle and perhaps a gentle rain…

Love y’all, Camellia

p.s. Those doctors don’t always know everything… 21 months after this miracle? Another miracle baby girl was born on a sweet day in May! Believe in miracles, watch for them…they are all around you! Can I get a Glory Hallelujah?

Tomato Sandwiches…

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Summer tomatoes are a delicacy. The closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be. There is nothing like the smell of a warm tomato on the vine, nothing. Here at Camellia’s Cottage-we not only hire a pet sitter, we hire someone to water our tomatoes if we’re gone on vacation!  We’ve even been known to bribe folks with tomatoes…‘If you’ll come by and pick up the mail, you can pick some tomatoes.’ Works every time.  We wait on the tomatoes , fret over them- we check on them, often. When we talk tomatoes- we say morbid things like –

  • ‘I think my tomatoes have blossom end rot’
  • ‘Well, the hornworms are going to get to the tomatoes.’
  • ‘I think a possum uprooted the tomato plants.’
  • ‘The birds are going to get all of the tomatoes if you don’t get them first.’
  • ‘This is the last year I’m going to plant tomatoes, so you better enjoy them.’
  • ‘These tomatoes aren’t fit to eat, they’re mealy, because we’ve had too much rain.’

Even against the odds we continue to plant more than we can eat. We’ve come to believe that the smaller the tomato the bigger the taste; but the real reason is this- you can get a ripe tomato sooner! Some people want a one tomato slice sandwich- from a tomato so big, just one slice covers the whole piece of bread! Southern cooking depends on tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes originated in the south, don’t argue with me about this. We know tomatoes, especially in the very county where I live. In the upper part of St. Clair County- the most famous and highly prized tomatoes are grown, the conditions are said to be perfect right at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains- in that one boat shaped plateau– Chandler Mountain! People take vacation time, even plan whole expeditions to go to tomato farms, owned by men like Dwight Rogers or the Smith Family and pick Chandler Mountain tomatoes!

There are at least three things folks don’t understand about southern cooking:

  • Why we love to eat Grits
  • Why we drink Sweet Tea
  • The fascination with Tomato Sandwiches

Grits might have to wait for another time- just know that adding sugar to grits is disgusting to a Southerner. Sweet Tea we’ve already covered. Tomato sandwiches are a delicacy which can be eaten for a short span of time, only when summer tomatoes are available; otherwise you have to add things to a tomato sandwich- like bacon and lettuce or a hamburger pattie! You have six to ten weeks to consume tomato sandwiches, depending on where you live in the south- maybe less. Now, here is the recipe for one perfect tomato sandwich:

  • 2 slices of white breadthis is not the time to break out the whole wheat.
  • Good mayonnaise, smeared on both sides of the bread- this is to create a barrier between the bread and the juicy tomatoes.
  • 1 summer tomato– sliced as thick as you dare.
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • And a generous sprinkle of good salt, tomatoes take to salt.

That’s it. There are only a few things that you can add to a tomato sandwich. Vidalia Onions sliced as thin as tissue paper and a bit of lemon zest added to the mayonnaise if you didn’t think to look for lemon juice in the ingredient label on the jar! Add anything else and you no longer have a tomato sandwich. On the side, I like to nibble a hot skinny green pepper and munch on Golden Flake Potato Chips made right here in Alabama, with my Tomato Sandwich. Pure, simple- nothing better.

 

 

I don’t expect you to understand this if you don’t have a southern palate. For me, there is a romance to a summer tomato sandwich. Imagine it- a sultry summer morning, you sashay barefoot out to check on the tomatoes, the dew is still thick on the grass. You smell the scent of the tomato vines, you see the green, the newly ripening and the perfect red fruit. Tomato red, like polished toenails. Hanging there, tempting you to reach out and pick. Oh lord, my mouth is watering now… your hand reaches out to pick the tomatoes, the prickly vine warns you to think before you pick– is it ready or not? is there any White Wonder Bread? some good mayonnaise? Golden Flake potato chips? You pick a few perfect vine ripe tomatoes, maybe a green one or two to fry…the tiny green ones would be good pickled. Bend down to the pepper plants and pick several slender.. long…green hot peppers …perfect.   As the sun goes down, you might hear this-

 ‘Honey, do you want me to grill some steaks?’

No darlin’- it’s so hot, I think I’ll just fix us a tomato sandwich.’

‘Sounds good to me.’

I hope wherever you are, the summer tomatoes are red, ripe and delicious- maybe you’ll find it in your heart to try a Summer Tomato Sandwich!  And remember, Southern Recipes are always part passion, part potion and part inherited wisdom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Image of Dwight Rogers by Mike Callahan from Discover – the Essence of St. Clair – a wonderful local Alabama magazine! The editor is our dear friend Carol Pappas. Click on the link  and you can read more about Chandler Mountain tomatoes! and visit their website- www.discoverstclair.com