We awakened to the soft pattering of rain on the roof, a most welcome sound after the violent thunderstorms and accompanying winds of the past few weeks. In spite of all the stormy weather, the ground was crying out for water. This was a slow, steady rain—the kind that Mom used to call a “swoozy” rain.
The garden and meadows were drinking it thirstily, and you could almost see the lawn growing greener. The vegetables in the garden stretched out dry and thirsty roots and absorbed the life-giving moisture. I thought of the scripture in the Bible which promises, “Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land will yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” (Lev. 26-4)
Of course this promise comes with a stipulation, as does the promises of God. The preceding verse says, “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments and do them;”—yet I am sure that many times our loving God bestows his blessings upon the undeserving and unthankful. He sends His rain upon the just and the unjust.
I am grateful for the rain. A midsummer haze hangs over the garden, and it is producing bountifully. The sweet smell of corn tassels hangs in the air; green beans are heavy on their vines, while cucumbers and yellow squash have to be picked almost every day. The first tomatoes are ripening, juicy globes of matchless flavor. Some of today’s children will never know the sheer delight of taking a salt shaker to the garden and biting into a tomato warmed by the sun. It makes the supermarket variety taste like cardboard.
What better country food is there than fresh-picked ears of corn right out of the garden, plunged into a cooker of boiling water, and eaten with salt and pepper and butter dripping off your elbows? We always called them “roastin’ ears” and we ate it almost every day while it was in season. No wonder people called us “corn fed!”
Blackberries are ripe now, hanging glossy black, juicy and sweet. That was one of our summer chores, picking all the berries that Mom could use. Grandpa was one of the best berry pickers, though. He would strap two zinc water buckets on his belt and head for Pilot Knob. He would stay until he filled the buckets, and then come home drenched with sweat and tired to the bone, but so happy to bring them to Mom.
We don’t see children picking blackberries the way we did when we were kids. It was an all day job, rising early in the morning while the weeds and shrubs were wet with dew. We made our way across the creek and up the hill to the upper pasture field where the berry vines grew rampant. It was sort of fun in the beginning, racing to see who could fill their bucket first.
Later, as the sun rose higher in the sky, the sweat bees would start stinging, and berry vines would grab you in the back, it wasn’t nearly as much fun. Someone would invariably spill their berries, and try to gather them up with bits of moss, dry leaves and dirt scattered through them. Poor Mom had to clean them.
We would get hot and tired, and the water jug that was cool and refreshing early that morning would be lukewarm. We would get hungry too, and it was a bedraggled bunch who stumbled down the hill with their offering of berries. Mom canned them in half gallon jars and made lots of jam and jelly. We were amply repaid when she put a bread pan full of blackberry cobbler on the table, which we ate with thick cow cream.
After Mom put up all the berries she needed, we were allowed to pick them to sell. I think we got fifty cents a gallon for them. Can you imagine today’s children picking blackberries for fifty cents a gallon? It was just about the only way we had of making any money. I ordered two pieces of corduroy material from the Sears and Roebuck catalog with my hard earned money, and Mom made me a couple of skirts the year I started to high school.
Summer is hurrying by, and it will soon be time for school to start again. The Rose of Sharon bush is festooned with dark pink, rose-like blossoms that bow down the branches. It is a true midsummer flower that blooms faithfully. Mom’s mother (Grandma Samples) called one of these shrubs her “rosy churn.” Mom said she was a great big girl before she realized what she was talking about. It’s like the “piney roses” that older people grew—actually they are peonies.
Summer moves along as usual, with Queen Anne’s lace taking the stage as the most prominent wildflower right now. This delicate white flower, resembling a crocheted doily, has one dark reddish-brown floret right in its center. It does resemble a drop of blood, and folklore tells us that Queen Anne of England (1655-1714) was making lace and pricked her finger with a needle. A drop of her royal blood dripped on the lacework and the flower was thus named.
There is a lot more to this flower than one can imagine. It is a medicinal herb used as a diuretic, soothes the digestive tract, supports the liver, is a cystitis treatment, and prevents kidney stone formation. A warm water infusion of the flowers is said to be effective as a diabetes treatment, and was used as a contraceptive in older days.
We are cautioned strongly about being sure that the herb we gather is not the poisonous water hemlock, the herb which poisoned Socrates. Another name for Queen Anne’s lace is “wild carrot” and if you dig up the root you will realize that it does smell just like a carrot. If you roll the leaves of the water hemlock between your fingers, it smells nasty. Another name for Queen Anne’s lace is “Mother Die” and folklore has it that if you bring it in the house, your mother will die.
It can be used for food. I’ve read that deep fried flowers from this plant are quite tasty, although I’ve never tried it. I did deep-fry some elder bloom once, and it gave me the worst case of heartburn I ever suffered. So—I am a little leery of deep-fried foods.
I found a recipe that you might try if you are feeling adventuresome.
QUEEN ANNE’S LACE JELLY
18 large fresh flower heads
4 cups water
¼ cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
1 package powdered pectin
3 1/2 cups+2 tablespoons sugar
Bring water to boil. Remove from heat, add flower heads (push them down into water)
Cover and steep for 30 minutes, then strain.
Measure 3 cups of liquid into 4-6 quart pan, add lemon juice and pectin.
Bring to rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar, still stirring. Cook and stir to rolling boil, and boil one minute longer. Remove from heat; add coloring (pink if desired.) Skim. Fill jars and process in hot water bath for five minutes.
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