(Cover/Slider photo credit Sheri McLeroy – see the full version of the cover photo and more of Sheri’s photography.)


Workers lay irrigation lines in this field in preparation for transplanting watermelon seedlings.

FRESHLY PLOWED FIELDS are a sure sign winter is drawing to a close. Local farmers are busy preparing their land, turning in amendments and fertilizer, shaping furrows, laying down irrigation lines. There is something about this ancient practice that brings joy to my heart. I love the earthy smell of the land as it lays bare to the elements. I love the watching the brown fields sprout uniform rows of green plants, soon to be food on our tables. The cycle of the seasons continues as we go about our daily lives.

Like farming, cooking traditions also continue as family recipes and cooking methods pass from one generation to the next. Sometimes these traditions are learned passively as children watch their parents in the kitchen. Other times parents actively engage their children in meal preparation. Different branches of families come together at reunions, weddings, and wakes to share the common bond that unites them—and food.

My family cookbook holds a collection of recipes, photos, family lore, and genealogy information to pass on to future generations.

Do you remember a favorite dessert or salad from when you were a kid? Can you replicate that dish now? All too often we take our elders for granted, thinking they will always be around. Now that I am part of the older generation I yearn to return to years past to ask Grandma Anna about her yeasted sweet bread or Aunt Mimi for her stew recipe. What did my mom and dad eat when they were kids? Did their parents have a garden, too? It is too late to ask.

For the past few years I have been working on compiling a cookbook of family recipes as a tribute to my mother, who showed her love for her family by cooking and baking for them. Some of her recipes are ethnic, others truly American in nature. I included photos of mom’s handwritten recipe cards and some of her kitchenware and utensils that I inherited. I added a section in the back with old family pictures and genealogy information. When I finally distributed the books to the few remaining members of my family, they were thrilled to receive a piece of our shared heritage to pass down to their heirs.

If family meals and traditional recipes are something you cherish, why not take the time to document them now. Ask relatives to send you copies of recipes they are especially fond of or ones that have been passed down through the generations. Take a notebook or recorder to family gatherings or call relatives on the phone and gather special recipes and mealtime memories as best you can. Don’t forget to take photos of family members to include in your collection. Assemble them in a scrapbook or binder using those clear sleeves to hold fragile or one-of-a-kind pieces you don’t want to punch holes in. Your collection can be as fancy or simple as you want. There are numerous online publishers that specialize in printing cookbooks for families, churches, and other organizations. If you have the money and want to make more than a few copies, consider going that route. But no matter what shape your collection takes, don’t wait until it is too late to gather those recipes and mealtime memories that make your family so special.

These summer vegetable and herb seedlings will be transplanted into my garden once the ground warms up.

MY WINTER GARDEN is fading fast. The collards and kale are still going strong, though, and the cold weather of this past weekend had me stirring the soup pot. This simple but hearty soup was a warming addition to our evening meal.

You can use 4 cups of water if you don’t have any chicken stock on hand. Frozen greens can be substituted for fresh. This recipe makes about 5 cups but can easily be doubled.

Half a medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped, cooked sausage or ham,
OR 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cups collards or other greens, washed and chopped small

Slowly sauté the onion and garlic in a little hot fat or oil, stirring often until soft and barely turning golden. Add the stock, potatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Lightly mash with a potato masher to break up the potatoes a little for a nice chunky texture. Add the meat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook gently for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

THE GROUND is not yet warm enough to plant summer, heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, field peas, and summer squash. I have some basil, tomatoes, and squash started in pots ready to be transplanted once the night temperatures stay above 50 degrees. The average last frost date for Levy County is March 15 so wait at least until then to plant new crops.

For those who don’t have the space or energy for a garden, consider using containers for a kitchen door or porch garden. Herbs such as parsley, basil, and chives do well in pots. Located in a sunny spot by your kitchen door, you can easily snip a sprig or two of these herbs to add extra flavor to your meals. A five-gallon bucket will hold one tomato plant or a pepper plant or two. Be sure and group plants that need the same requirements for water and sunlight.

Part of my neighbor’s back yard is crowded with wild spring onions. Their pungent fragrance fills the air whenever she mows that area. These gifts from nature can be eaten raw the same way as scallions or bunching onions. My husband likes to brush them lightly with oil before grilling them on the barbecue. This renders them tender and sweet, a perfect side dish to pork chops, fried fish or chicken.

IT’S TIME TO close this edition of Levy County Kitchen. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.

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