A TOAST TO DADS EVERYWHERE by Dotti Hydue

Memorial Day is early this year. Our first official weekend of summer is chock full of events every dad will love, including NASCAR, Indianapolis 500, and baseball games, along with outdoor recreation all along the Nature Coast. Take care to not forget the real reason for this holiday. Pay your respects to our country’s fallen military men and women at the cemetery or when saying grace before diving into platters of your favorite barbecue.

Commercial fields of peanuts are looking good and melons are being harvested. As I flip the calendar page to the month of June, I see one of my favorite festivals will soon be here. The Chiefland Watermelon Festival, a fun-filled family event in its 61st year, is on June 6th. Get your fill of free watermelon, compliments of area farmers, as you enjoy the entertainment, contests, vendor booths, parade, and beauty pageants. Visit the Chiefland Woman’s Club website at http://www.chieflandwomansclub.org for more details and schedule of events.

The following recipes take advantage of our area’s most refreshing crop. The beverages are perfect for a lazy summer afternoon rocking on the porch, a wedding reception, or to cool down a meal of spicy barbecue.

 

Watermelon Cooler

You can use any type of hot pepper in this drink, the hotter the pepper the more fiery the beverage. If you add the tequila, be sure and keep the drink out of reach of young children and teens.

1 8-pound watermelon

1/4 cup sugar

Step on up and get your slice of refreshing watermelon.

Step on up and get your slice of refreshing watermelon.

1/4 cup water

1 hot pepper of your choice, halved and seeded

1/2 cup lime juice

2 cups tequila

Cut the flesh from the watermelon into 1-inch cubes. Freeze a quarter of the cubes. Purée remaining cubes and strain. You should have about 8 cups juice.

Boil the sugar and water together in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add the hot pepper. Let the syrup cool; strain into a pitcher. Stir in the watermelon juice, lime juice, frozen watermelon cubes and, if using, the tequila. Stir and enjoy.

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Watermelon Sipper

Ginger beer is a non-alcoholic beverage similar to ginger ale but a LOT spicier due to its high ginger content. I will admit that I ended up diluting it by half with carbonated water. If you like spicy, look for it alongside other drink mixers at well-stocked grocery or liquor stores.

 

Tubs of melons from local farmers chill out at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

Tubs of melons from local farmers chill out at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

6 cups seeded watermelon chunks

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/3 cup sugar

Ginger beer or ginger ale

My dad looking sharp circa 1920. Sometimes it is hard to remember that our parents were once young themselves.

My dad looking sharp circa 1920. Sometimes it is hard to remember that our parents were once young themselves.

Purée watermelon, lime juice and sugar in a blender or food processor. Pour into 2 ice cube trays and freeze until solid. To serve, place 3 or 4 watermelon cubes in several tall glasses. Pour ginger beer over the cubes and enjoy.

 

BAY SCALLOP season opens June 27 and runs through September 24 this year. Recreational harvesters need a Florida saltwater fishing license to harvest scallops, even when scalloping from shore. Commercial harvesting is prohibited. For details on harvest zones and other regulations, visit myfwc.com.

June holidays include National Doughnut Day (5th), National Corn on the Cob Day (11th), Flag Day (14th), Go Fishing Day (18th), the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—and Father’s Day, both on the 21st. Let’s hoist a frosty mug of cold beer and offer a toast in honor of dear dad. Beer has been around for centuries. A recipe for “wine of grain” was inscribed on stone tablets in Mesopotamia about seven thousand years before the time of Christ. Civilizations that followed have been brewing up a storm ever since.

Beer is not one of my go-to beverages, but I have been known to cook and bake with it. What type of beer is best for cooking? Usually the beer you like to drink. That said, in recent years American beers have gone from light to lighter. Their flavor could become lost when used in a hearty beef stew or batter for frying seafood. Pick out a full-flavored beer for use in the kitchen.

There will be plenty of beer flowing on Father’s Day, so start dad’s day off with these hearty breakfast or brunch pancakes. Who said brunch is only for mothers? Whip up a batch; Dad will love you for it.

 

Beer and Onion Pancakes

Serve with syrup, eggs, and breakfast meat of your choice.

DeBerry Marketing Services1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup beer

2 tablespoons melted butter or light cooking oil

My father and his father introduced me to gardening. Green thumbs run the the family.

My father and his father introduced me to gardening. Green thumbs run the the family.

Sauté onion in 1 tablespoon butter until lightly browned. In a bowl, stir flour, salt and baking powder together. Add egg, beer and melted butter. Stir in onions. Allow batter to stand 15 minutes. Spoon onto a well-greased, hot griddle. Cook until bubbles break on top and bottom side is light brown. Turn and brown second side.

 

THIS MONTH’S rising temperatures and humidity levels usually mean a decrease in the productivity of our garden’s vegetable plants. Only a few hardy vegetables such as okra, peppers, and sweet potatoes will continue to reliably produce. Insect and disease activity increases as plant productivity decreases so now is the time to clean up the garden. Plants on the decline should be pulled along with any weeds to curb populations of insects and nematodes. If you want to solarize the soil, see IFAS publication #ENY 062 or search “solarize” at http://edis.ifas.ufl.org for details. If you decide to not go the solar route, work in some compost, leaves, manure, and/or grass clippings to help build your soil.

Healthy soil is the backbone of farming and this year has been designated the International Year of Soils. I remember when I moved to Florida and planted my first garden. The majority of seeds did not sprout. The seedlings that did appear soon yellowed and died. My green thumbs turned blue as I assessed the situation. That’s when I realized sand is not soil and no amount of fertilizer can take the place of a healthy soil.

Gainesville Video ProductionThe ideal soil is loam: a mixture of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. But loam is hard to come by in Florida, a state awash in sand: fine sand, mucky sand, coarse sand, sugar sand—you get the idea. Our official state soil is a type of sand unique to Florida called Myakka, a fine-grained, light gray sand that covers more than 1,500,000 acres of the Sunshine State.

The best way to improve your soil, whether sand- or clay-based, is to add a variety of amendments on a regular basis. Crop stubble and green manures (plants grown specifically to be plowed into the ground) add vital nutrients and texture when they are turned back into the soil and allowed to break down. Crop rotation helps break the cycle of insect populations and soil diseases, resulting in a decreased need for pesticides and other chemicals. Commercial farmers around the country are starting to realize the wisdom of their ancestors who practiced diverse crop rotation. Instead of a two-crop planting schedule, savvy farmers are planting four to six crops and have realized higher yields and an increase in soil health. Studies have found these positive effects could not be replicated by the use of transgenic hybrids, more fertilizer, insecticides, and other inputs. Building healthy soils takes time and energy, but anyone who gardens knows they will be rewarded come harvest time.

That’s all for now. As the weather heats up, be sure and stay hydrated with non-alcoholic beverages. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.

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