When I was a child, the school year defined the seasons for me. Fall meant that my mom, sister and I could spend hours in the school supply section of every store without shame. Winter started when the last Christmas cookie was eaten at the classroom holiday party. Spring brought a new Easter dress, pinching shoes and the return of green to our world. Summer began on the final glorious day of school. Every year, my mom would pick us up from that last day and sing with us, “School’s out, school’s out, Teacher let the monkeys out!” at the top of our lungs, jubilant, on the way home. That was what freedom tasted like to my sister and me.
As I’ve gotten older, and maybe because I don’t have children of my own, the seasons are starting to fall in line with their actual solstices and equinox dates. Spring still starts with the first daffodil bloom I see or the first day the urge to break out the pasty white legs in shorts overwhelms me. Summer, though, summer seemed to really start last week, coinciding with that magical longest day of the year.
For me, summer brings the natural urge to have a popsicle after every meal. This is not so great for me waistline, but it makes for some happy reminiscence over favorite childhood treats. My favorite was always the orange sherbet push pop. The Flintstones were on the wrapper when I was a child. For others, it might be that a chocolate and peanut-covered Drumstick takes them back to Adult Swim time at the public pool – a kid’s best chance at attacking the snack bar for sweets. For yet others, those people I truly do not understand, the quintessential summer treat is a red, white, and blue Freedom Pop or Rocket Pop. Those always seemed like “city kid” treats (even though I was a city kid!) because you could get them from the ice cream truck with its magical loop of tinkling ragtime music. As an adult, I find that music incredibly maddening rather than magical!
Summer also brings dinners cooked on the grill. In the past week, we’ve had hamburgers, steaks and salmon. My family has always been a charcoal grilling sort of family, and the smell of a grill full of charcoal briquettes heating up to cook large pieces of meat can instantly send me to evenings on the back patio watching my dad tend the grill with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand (before PBR was hipster-cool). Since I got married a few years ago, I’ve been passive-aggressive about the refilling of our grill’s propane tank. I think my husband finally got the hint and just automatically buys a bag of charcoal when I suggest something grilled for dinner.
This week, the number one sign that summer is upon us took place. No, I don’t mean the forecasted triple digit temperatures. I don’t even mean the many Team USA Olympic trials taking place. No. Yesterday, my mom called me at work and said, “I’m having fried green tomatoes for dinner. Do you want to come over?”
Fried green tomatoes are my family’s signal that summer fun can begin. I remember my grandmother searching for the perfect green tomato at the roadside farm stand. I remember her, in her house without air conditioning, determining that it was worth it to stand over a hot iron skillet on the stove and fry up some tomatoes. I remember thinking that it was torture to have to wait for the sizzling bits to cool off enough to pop them in our mouth. I remember the searing pain when we weren’t patient!
My mom has since taken over the unspoken tradition of the fried green tomato. Slicing the unripe fruit, dredging the slices through a mix of flour, salt and pepper (no cornmeal in this family, thank you!) and tossing them in an already-sizzling cast iron skillet. Once nice and golden brown, she scoops them up and deposits them on the waiting paper towel-covered plate. Eager and greedy eyes wait and watch for a signal that we can start eating them.
Last night, my mom, sister, cousins and I rang in the still young season with a fresh batch of fried green tomatoes from Happy Jack’s Farm while my nephews regaled us with stories of how awesome their summer break already is.
It’s summertime, y’all.