Bathing suits and bare feet. Running through the backyard sprinkler, jumping in the waves of the Port Aransas surf, wading along the rocky banks of the Frio River. My childhood Texas summers were warm and slow-paced.
In the overgrown lot behind our mowed backyard, there was a tree house, built by our dad in a tangle of mesquite and chinaberry trees. While my little sisters spent hours gliding on the rope swing, I sat crosslegged on the upper platform and wrote in my diary. Those old pages tell of friendships, crushes and family events. I never mention food directly, but fond memories of it are hidden between the lines.
Summer cookouts meant iced watermelon, grilled burgers or dogs, brown-sugared baked beans and a wiggly Jell-O salad. There was a peach tree near our gravel driveway, and on occasion, we had homemade peach ice cream with Snickerdoodle cookies. The food was good, but for us kids catching lightning bugs and having chinaberry fights took precedence over eating.
It was the beginning of the Space Age, and a galaxy of new food items was capturing our imaginations. Bright boxes and cans beckoned us from the expanding shelves of our neighborhood grocery. We ate Spam, drank Kool-Aid and devoured Cheez-Its with our Cheez Whiz sandwiches. Happiness was a Kellogg’s Variety Pack and the cheery faces of Betty Crocker and Chef Boyardee, the only man who cooked. In a generation, America’s eating habits had moved from Victory Gardens to E-Z-Fix instant products. To our WWII parents and Depression-era grandparents, this was progress, and who am I to say that it wasn’t?
I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything. I was well-fed and loved. My mom is still one of the most inventive cooks around. (Who else makes Bisquick pancakes in the shape of funny animals?) But I never learned to like vegetables until my twenties when I discovered fresh produce in the farmers markets of Europe. I didn’t hate spinach after all, just the modern mass-canned stuff.
Today’s chefs, both men and women, are touted as superheroes, and fresh is the new mantra. There’s a revived appreciation for the art of growing real food. This is not simply a trendy nod to the past; it’s an acknowledgement of a need for change. Our health and the nation’s precious resources are at stake.
Our summer issue spotlights people and organizations that are moving our community in a positive direction. At rural Northeast Texas Community College, a new high-tech agricultural complex puts emphasis on sustainable farming. REAL School Gardens is partnering with 74 elementary schools so that children can learn the wonders of growing vegetables. Coppell Community Gardens is a shining example of how gardens can unite volunteers, who in turn deliver organic produce to those in need.
There is renewed interest in food artisans like yogurt maker Edgar Diaz and the boutique winemakers of the Way Out Wineries. The revitalized town of McKinney is proud of its rural roots, and its chefs and shopkeepers are responding to the demand for fresh, healthy foods. To me, this is progress.
So, welcome to the Swimsuit Edition of Edible Dallas & Fort Worth. We hope these stories and seasonal recipes will light some sparklers under your plate and in your heart.