By CROSBY GAIGE
MIDSUMMER tidal waves of vegetables rising in millions of American gardens beat against our tables in such surging profusion that bewildered housewives, cooks, and just ordinary eaters have difficulty dealing with the flood. A breaker of string beans crashes in the kitchen, and its green ebb has scarcely disappeared before it is followed by a comber of peas, another of carrots, of corn, cauliflower, and tomatoes.
Authorities differ as to the birthplace of string beans; but wherever they came from, they came aplenty. Untold billions of them are served every year on our tables like so much soggy ensilage. When frost puts a fortunate stop to their proliferation in Northern gardens, string bean connivers in other parts of the country take up the task and ship whole trainloads to places already sated with their monotony. Some cooks serve them whole; some cut them lengthwise; some cut them squarely across; and some, with a real flair for nuance, cut them on the slant. It makes no difference how you cut them, they are still a pain in the palate.
One Saturday afternoon I found that the gardener had thoughtfully provided a nice, brimming basket of string beans. I put the basket beneath the kitchen table and tried to ignore it, but you can’t ignore string beans. There are too many of them.
I decided to do something drastic, and here is what I did. The beans, about two pounds of them, were washed, sliced, and put to boil with a small sprig of summer savory in a kettle of salted water, where they were allowed to cook for about 25 minutes, or until they were tender. While they were cooking, I melted 4 ounces of good butter in a saucepan. (Of course if you can’t get butter, exercise your own judgment as to what sort of vegetable fat you use in this and the following recipes.) I sliced a dozen scallions, tops and all, into the hot butter, along with a cup of finely sliced mushrooms, and let them stew slowly until soft. Then I added a pint of milk, and allowed the mixture to come nearly, but not quite, to the boiling point. As a final touch, when the pot was removed to the back of the stove, I added salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste, a cup of cream, and a tablespoon of freshly grated cheese. The beans were served in hot, individual earthen dishes, swimming in the rich sauce. You should eat them with a spoon and ask for a second helping.
For the past dozen years or so I have acted in the capacity of Adviser on Flavor to the American Spice Trade Association, a federation of importers, grinders, and purveyors of spices and herbs. The activities of this association are benevolent, and upon them depends the tastiness of our daily food.
And so it is that most of the problems of seasoning have come to my attention and have been examined in my laboratory. A little touch of spice or herb makes all the difference between routine fare and high cuisine.
As new potatoes are still being unearthed in some parts of the country from their tidy rows in the garden, here follow a couple of suggestions for the treatment of these tiny tubers.
Peel 12 small, uniform-sized potatoes and cook them in a covered saucepan along with a bay leaf, in enough chicken stock to cover them. Let them simmer slowly for about 15 minutes, or until they are done. In another saucepan, sauté 2 teaspoons of finely chopped onions in 2 ounces of butter until the onions are a soft golden color. Strain the onions from the butter and pour it over the young spuds and garnish with chopped parsley. Another treatment is to boil the new potatoes in their jackets in the usual manner. Peel them and sauté them in a frying pan in melted butter to which a bay leaf has been added. Shake them gently in the pan until their curves are crispy and nicely flecked with gold and brown. Then serve with a sprinkling of mixed chopped chives and parsley.
Corn on the cob has carried its message all over the world. Keen amateur gardeners like Jonel Jorgulesco tell me that it is a good idea to get your seed corn from some place far away from home. He said the best corn he ever grew in his garden in Westchester County, New York, came from seed grown in Hawaii. In any event, in my own garden I have at least five successive plantings of maize. The earliest planting gets its start in small pots in the greenhouse. By this sly practice I beat the neighbors by a week or two.
Sometimes I make special butter balls for corn on the cob. Soften half a pound of butter, just enough so that it can be easily worked. Blend thoroughly with the butter a level teaspoon of paprika, form into butter balls, and store in the refrigerator against future use.
When you are tired of corn au naturel, corn fritters, or corn soup, try a dish made as follows:-
I take 15 good, fresh ears and cut the kernels from the cob. Into my saucepan I put 3 ounces of butter. Next, I clean, seed, and mince into small pieces a large green pepper and a large red pepper. These I sauté in the hot butter for about 10 or 12 minutes. Next goes in a pint of milk, and when this is hot I add the corn and a cup of finely diced mushrooms. The dish is then seasoned to taste with salt, white pepper, and a half teaspoon of chili powder, and allowed to simmer, but not boil, for about 10 minutes, or until the corn is tender. Five minutes before the corn is ready to serve, the saucepan is removed to the back of the stove and the final touch of perfection blesses the pot in the shape of a half pint of cream.
Green peas are one of the fine treats that summer affords to us. As a known vegetable the pea is older than antiquity itself. The Greeks called it pison and the Latins settled for pisum. I will settle for green peas as I occasionally have them prepared at home.
In a heavy casserole or stewpan melt a quarter pound of good, sweet butter. Shred into this a head of fresh lettuce and slice in three or four young scallions. Add a half teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of chopped parsley, a good, big pinch of grated nutmeg, and a tablespoon of cold water. Let this mixture simmer for five minutes and then pour in a quart of shelled peas. Cook quickly for about 20 minutes. The lettuce and the peas will furnish their own cooking liquid. Then remove the pot to the back of the stove and add a cup of light cream — and do not allow to boil.
Fine things may be done with melons when they ripen upon the vine or within the grocer’s bins. Select ripe melons such as cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon, either singly or in combination with each other. Scoop out the tender, fragrant flesh into balls with a round spoon or with a gadget made for the purpose. Into a glass bowl go the melon balls with a bath consisting of 2 tablespoons of preserved ginger, a pinch of ground ginger stirred up with the juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange for each person to be served. Chill this well in the refrigerator for an hour and present in generous, individual glasses buried in chopped ice and decorated, if you go in for decoration, with strawberry leaves.