The last Monday in May marks Memorial Day, a special day set aside for citizens to commemorate and pay tribute to our country’s fallen soldiers. The day was first enacted to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in our Civil War. After World War I the day’s definition was broadened to include service members from all military branches who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the United States in any war. Originally called Decoration Day, the families of these brave souls would gather at cemeteries and decorate the graves of relatives killed in battle.

melon-1My family had no service members to honor. Instead we would spend Memorial Day weekend visiting various cemeteries tending the graves of my grandparents and other family members who had passed over. My parents would clean the gravesites, plant flowers, and spend a little time quietly talking about the lives of our deceased relatives.

I am saddened to think how many graves of loved ones are no longer cared for because relatives have moved away or also died, or the younger generations don’t know the location of the final resting places of their ancestors. Hats off to the people who are working on restoring the cemetery on Atsena Otie, the original site of the town of Cedar Key. I have also heard of groups forming to locate and clean up small, long-forgotten cemeteries across Florida.

Cold watermelonMEMORIAL DAY also ushers in the busy month of June, when families gather to celebrate graduations, weddings, family reunions, and Father’s Day. Now that school is out, local campgrounds; our springs, rivers, and coastal waters; and city parks will fill with the sounds of folks enjoying some fun in the sun. What better way to celebrate summer than with a picnic.

The foods for a summer picnic can be as simple as sandwiches and iced tea or as elaborate as a four-course meal. Your most important concern is to keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold, and to avoid cross-contamination between uncooked meats and other foods. Make sure coolers have plenty of ice. You can freeze bottles of water (leave at least one inch of head space to allow for expansion) to use along with ice and/or ice packs. Foods that need refrigeration, especially meats, should not sit out longer than one hour, especially in our hot, humid weather.

So what’s on your menu? Cold fried chicken, three-bean salad, potato salad, sliced melons, and plenty of cool beverages sound good to me. Recipes that contain eggs, mayonnaise, and other dairy products are particularly susceptible to spoiling in the heat so try substituting a vinaigrette dressing for one containing mayo or sour cream. I have seen many variations on the name and ingredients for the following potato salad recipe. Whatever you know it as, it is a safe dish to bring to picnics or potlucks held outdoors.

Picnic Potato Salad
Feel free to add celery, radishes, cooked English peas, cooked and chopped green beans or other vegetables as your taste dictates. The recipe can be easily doubled for larger crowds.

1/4 cup olive or other salad oil
1/4 fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped red onion or scallions
4 large potatoes, cooked and cubed
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the oil and lemon juice. Mix in parsley and onion. Add potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently to coat. Chill at least two hour before serving.

WATERMELON SEASON is in full swing and soon the packing plant in Williston will be swarming with repurposed school buses loaded with their sweet cargo. There is nothing more refreshing than slices of chilled watermelon. This thirst-quenching fruit is excellent in mixed fruit salads and the sliced rind makes crisp pickles. Got more watermelon than you can eat? How about making watermelon juice. Peel, seed, and slice the melon into chunks. Place about two cups at a time in a blender. Blend until liquid. Stir in a squeeze of lime juice and about one-quarter cup of water, more or less, to achieve desired consistency. Serve chilled. You can freeze this juice into popsicles, too.
Get your fill of one of Levy County’s premier crops at the Chiefland Watermelon Festival. Scheduled for Saturday, June 1st, the day promises lots of family fun, entertainment, and best of all, free watermelon. Visit the website chieflandwomansclub.org for festival details.

MY GARDEN is flush with green and wax snap beans, carrots, lettuces, summer squash, and scallions. The lima beans and blackeye and zipper cream pea plants are flowering. I’ve not grown the zipper peas before and am eagerly awaiting my first harvest. I know I’ll be busy shelling these tasty southern peas soon. Eggplant, peppers, and Seminole pumpkins are forming along with several varieties of tomatoes. Such rewarding harvests make all the hard work of gardening worthwhile. How is your garden growing?

That’s all for now. Stay cool, and until next time, the kitchen is closed.


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