Thanksgiving side dishes hold special memories for someone whose childhood home had a summer garden.
I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a house with a huge backyard so my father could have a garden every summer. Unfortunately, I have a wilted-yellow thumb, and I’ve never taken to digging in the dirt and growing things.
My dad couldn’t wait for the first hint that cold weather was gone. Many times, he got ahead of himself and had to plant his crops twice because we’d have a heavy frost in April. Mother always fussed at him about that because she said it was a waste of seeds.
He purchased seeds from catalogs and the local garden center, and carefully nurtured others passed to him from other gardeners. I remember Mother giving seed samplings to extended family members after he died to keep the heritage going.
Every year, Daddy grew lettuce, green beans, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, corn, and anything else that he thought would grow. In addition, he had apple, peach, and pecan trees, and grew blackberries. He loved being in that garden, and my mom often accused him of overworking it. He didn’t seem to care.
I loved those meals that included fresh green beans, sliced juicy tomatoes, fried okra, and cornbread.
I have to say I was never very fond of July because we spent most of our time canning and freezing the harvest. I estimate I have sterilized a million Mason jars. OK, maybe not that many, but a lot of them.
We canned sweet and dill pickles, hot peppers, tomatoes, ketchup, soup mix, and sauerkraut (that stuff stinks while it’s fermenting). We eventually moved to freezing green beans, corn, and okra.
All of this work paid off at Thanksgiving and other meals during winter. Instead of green bean casserole, we had the fresh frozen green beans that tasted like they’d just come out of the garden. We had creamed corn and squash casserole. We also enjoyed macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes added. These were my favorite side dishes, and they made the meal.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful my dad taught me about gardening though I don’t do it myself. I do, however, know my way to places like Bountiful Farms in Okahumpka, where there are acres and acres of wonderful fresh vegetables.