By PETTUS READ
Once again, down at the store, the talk is centered on what kind of winter we are in the grips of, and the vote was tied between Dogwood and Redbud, since both are now in full bloom. The fact is it’s another cold snap coming down from Canada and a time for building teepees over your early flowering plants as we always do this time of the year. I do enjoy seeing the creative ability of everyone around my part of the country as they take tablecloths, sheets and mama’s old nightgown and build some pretty impressive cold frames for plants that should have never been planted in the first place.
This spring has started out as one with some unusual weather in the Volunteer State, as well as the rest of the continental United States. Snow continues to fall in parts of the country and record warmth has shown up in some parts of Tennessee over the last few days, but going right back to requiring us to switch the heat back on for a few nights to knock the chill off. If you are a native or have lived here for as many as five years, you soon learn to expect the unusual when it comes to weather in these parts.
We native types always expect the cold snaps, known as numerous “winters,” such as Red Bud, Dogwood, Locust, Blackberry and Cotton Britches just to name a few. Every community within the state has colloquialisms that describe a sudden cold change in the weather during this time of the year and is just something to be expected. That’s why it is not too good of an idea to get in too big of a hurry to plant those tender plants before all the chance of frost has passed. Of course, everyone wants to be the first with a ripe tomato. But the fact is that most old timers, like myself, wait until May 15 to plant them.
I have whole trays of ‘mater seedlings growing on top of my cedar chests, with southern exposed windows, just waiting for the weather to get over this fickle time of the year. I too, have that special desire for some Mountain Fresh ‘mater saminches. I can already taste their sweetness and feel the juice running down my arm to boot. A few years back, I went around to farmers markets trying to find the perfect tomato to make a good ‘mater saminch, and Mountain Fresh was the top choice among all those I surveyed. The saminch I made from one of those ‘maters that came from over in Warren County was the best thing I had ever eaten. One slice covered the entire piece of lite bread, and with a good helping of Miracle Whip, it was something to behold. Summer can’t come soon enough for me. I understand this year there are several other varieties of Mountain tomatoes and I can’t wait for the farmers markets to get in full swing.
While I wait on the weather and the ‘maters, I’m also looking forward to another one of my favorite times of the year that deals with Tennessee grown food and it is right on the horizon. Of course, we all enjoy spring and the renewal of warm weather, but the true occurrence of this annual season that sets many people’s appetite in motion, is the ripening of big red Tennessee strawberries. All across the state, folks will soon be invading strawberry patches in a couple of weeks, ready to fill their baskets with the sweet berries that will soon grace their family kitchen tables.
Strawberries are also one of my favorite Tennessee-grown fruits, along with ‘maters, blackberries and cherries. And when it comes to gathering the produce, picking strawberries has its advantages over those other two berry crops due to your not having to worry about chiggers or climbing anything. I’ve never fallen off a ladder or come out of a strawberry patch yet having the urge to scratch. My only problem with strawberry picking is eating more than I pick, which is also a problem for the producer who allows me in their patch.
Strawberries are also grown all over Tennessee, so the opportunity for fresh-picked strawberries is there for everyone from Mountain City to Dyersburg. Picking Tennessee strawberries yourself assures that you get the very freshest, ripest berries possible. Make sure you get extra strawberries for freezing or processing into preserves, so you can enjoy them all year long. A list of the state's strawberry producers is available through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture website www.picktnproducts.org.
I’m looking forward to a fresh bowl of strawberries covered with cream just like I used to enjoy as a kid. I’ll also heat up a plate of homemade biscuits with some “real” creamery type butter, spread in the center, to drizzle over the top of the berries while eating the berries and dipping my biscuit - I’ll be in strawberry heaven! Now that’s what I call good country eating.
Yes, Tennessee is a great place to live if you like surprising weather and good things to eat. Get your pails ready for picking those berries because they will not be back until spring next year and that is just too long to wait. But it won’t be long until ‘mater saminch time either. I do love Tennessee!
-- Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.
He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org