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HOMEGROWN TOMATOES

July 15, 2017

Before I retired I was often asked, “Preacher, do you have a vegetable garden?”

“No, I don’t,” I explained. “I have more fresh vegetables without a garden than I ever had when I planted a garden of my own.”

Church members kindly shared the bounty of their gardens with our household.  Sometimes we would know who to thank.  At other times, these gifts were left anonymously on our doorstep.

Though I am usually not a vegetable gardener, this year I did plant three tomato plants. I sank them deep in a mixture of good soil, compost, and cow manure. The plants have thrived in these hot humid days of summer. On July 4 we picked our first ripe red tomato. I gave it to my friend Dave Sikma. Dave is an Illinois farmer who plants two dozen or more tomato plants in his garden. Dave is our daughter Betsy’s father-in-law. He told me that the first time Betsy visited their farm she plucked several bright green tomatoes from his plants and prepared fried green tomatoes for the family. Dave was not so impressed with this Southern delicacy. His opinion was that the fruit is best when left on the vine to ripen as the good Lord intended. He did report that the first fruit from my small patch was delicious.

When Clare and I travel to our family vacation at Pawleys Island, we often stop for lunch at Thomas Café, one of our favorite eateries in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Clare usually orders shrimp and grits while I select flounder. Both plates are served with a side of fried green tomatoes.

A lifelong devotee of this distinctly Southern fare, I search high and low for unripe tomatoes during the week at Pawleys. At roadside stands in the summertime green tomatoes are as scarce as hen’s teeth. In hot weather, even tomatoes that are picked green in the early morning soon start turning pink. Good fried tomatoes require the use of bright green fruit that is as firm as a potato. Absolutely no pink!

Here is my recipe for fried green tomatoes. Caution: these have a kick and the preparation is messy. The flavor is worth it!

Kirk’s Spicy Fried Green Tomatoes is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite.

4 large green tomatoes, (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

 

Dredging:

  • Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  • You need to use four bowls.
  • Into the first bowl pour only half of the buttermilk, and dip tomato slices.
  • Into the second bowl put the flour only, and lightly dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • Into the third bowl whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • In the fourth bowl mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

  • In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.
  • Place tomato slices, coated in batter, into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.
  • Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room. They should not touch each other.
  • When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.
  • Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

  • On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.
  • Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.
  • Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream. Goat cheese is also good on top.

We always enjoy delicious red tomatoes, however, served in various ways. Some folks swear by tomato pie. Others prefer the summer delight in salads of many varieties.

My specialty is Neely Soggy Tomato Sandwiches. In years past this was the sandwich of choice at the annual Neely Family Fourth of July Picnic. In our home we always enjoy this favorite kitchen sink sandwich while tomatoes are in season.

2 vine-ripe tomatoes

Duke’s Real Mayonnaise

6 slices of white bread

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

  • Take six slices of white bread. Don’t use anything that is good for you – just plain ole white sandwich bread.
  • Slather Duke’s Real Mayonnaise heavily on all six slices. Only use Duke’s. Use about twice as much mayonnaise as you ordinarily would.
  • Grind fresh black pepper on all six pieces of bread.
  • Stack thinly-sliced, vine-ripe tomatoes three layers deep on three pieces of the bread.
  • Salt the tomato slices.
  • Mash – not lightly press – the remaining three pieces of bread, mayonnaise side down, on top of the tomatoes.
  • Turn the sandwiches over and mash again.
  • Cut the three sandwiches in half. Let them come to room temperature.
  • Stand over the kitchen sink to enjoy these juicy sandwiches.

Until a hundred years ago some people thought the tasty red treat was poisonous. Long before it was considered fit to eat, it was grown exclusively as an ornamental garden plant. The mistaken idea that tomatoes were poisonous probably arose because they belong to a strange plant family. A nightshade plant, from the Latin word solanum, it includes the matura, mandrake, and belladonna, all considered poisonous.

Close relatives are paprika, chili pepper, potato, tobacco, and petunia. The unpleasant odor of tomato leaves and stems contributed to the idea that the fruits were unfit for human consumption.

Tomatoes originated as wild plants in the tropical foothills of the Andes Mountains of Peru. Gradually, they were carried north into Central America. Because of the highly perishable nature of the fruit, the tomato was slow to be adopted as a cultivated plant by Native Americans. Mayans used the fruit in their cooking. Tomatoes were grown in Mexico by the sixteenth century. The Pueblo people believed that those who ate tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.

Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century introduced the tomato to Europe. Italians were the first Europeans to grow and eat tomatoes. Later the tomato was grown in English and Spanish gardens, not as food, but as a curiosity. The French gave it the name pomme d’amour, translated as love apple in English.

The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in South Carolina. They may have been introduced to our area from the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century, tomatoes were grown on numerous Carolina plantations. Even then, they may have only been of ornamental interest.

Tomatoes were grown as food in New Orleans as early as 1812, no doubt because of French influence. Thomas Jefferson learned of tomatoes in France. The progressive Virginia farmer grew them at Monticello as early as 1781.

Tomatoes are now the most common garden vegetable in our country.  Along with zucchini squash, tomatoes have a reputation for out-producing the needs of the grower encouraging the sharing of garden bounty.

Tomatoes are regarded as one of the healthiest foods in our diet.  Rich in vitamins A and C, tomatoes contain lycopene, a chemical that gives them, as well as watermelons and red grapefruit, their color. Lycopene, an antioxidant, helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Although the tomato is technically a fruit, a member of the berry group, it is also considered a vegetable. In fact, it is the state vegetable of New Jersey and Arkansas. Health experts claim that we need five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits every day. At this time of year, we should all take advantage of local homegrown tomatoes to meet our daily quota.

Tomatoes are my special favorite.  Several years ago I wrote these lines an expression of my gratitude.

 

God is great, God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

By His hand we all are fed.

Give us, Lord, our daily bread.

 

Wholegrain bread, rye, or lite,

A sourdough loaf, or just plain white.

And please, dear Lord, some Duke’s mayonnaise.

And homegrown tomatoes for these summer days.

 

Add lettuce, and bacon, or maybe cheese,

But especially, Lord, I ask You please,

For vine-ripe tomatoes, sliced thick and round

To make the best sandwich I’ve ever found.

 

On days that grow weary with muggy heat,

A soggy tomato sandwich just can’t be beat.

With a tall glass of something cold to drink,

I’ll eat my lunch over the kitchen sink.

 

I’m grateful for corn, that good Silver Queen,

For cantaloupe, peaches, and fresh green beans,

For squash, and okra, and small red potatoes,

But nothing is better than homegrown tomatoes.

 

God is great, and God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

I know His kindness never ends

When given tomatoes by special friends.

POSSUM TALES

July 8, 2017

Clare and I look forward to receiving our Garden and Gun magazine. We subscribed ten years ago in 2007 when the publication was first announced. It is a welcomed guest in our mail box. I try to get to the latest issue before my wife does. I read the magazine, leaving it intact. Clare reads Garden and Gun the same way she reads Time magazine or the Herald-Journal or the New York Times. She rips out pages and trashes them as she reads. So, I was surprised and delighted to find the remnants of the April/May 2017 issue, because I had not yet seen it.

My favorite sections are Roy Blount’s column, always on the back page of the magazine, and Julia Reed’s piece. Both are excellent writers who display a keen wit and genuine southern charm. In this particular installment, the tenth anniversary issue, Julia Reed wrote “The Awesome Opossum.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading her take on an animal most of us know only as road kill. Julia Reed and I beg to differ with that assessment. In this article I combine a few of her possum tales with some of mine.

Few of us welcome untamed creatures in or around our homes. In the course of fifty-one years of wedded bliss, Clare and I have had a number of close encounters of the wild kind at our house. While our exterminator faithfully deals with the usual roaches, ants, wasps, and mice, we have also hosted squirrels, snakes, bats, and owls as uninvited visitors. Possums also occasionally pay a visit to our place.

Our sweet daughter-in-law, Patrice, phoned me some time ago with concern in her voice. “Papa Kirk, can you please tell me how I can get rid of a possum!”

“Why do you want to get rid of him?” I inquired.

“Because he’s ugly and scary, and I don’t like for him to be under my deck!”

Patrice is right. A possum is an undesirable houseguest.

Most of us consider possums to be annoying varmints.  Opossums, to use the proper name, are our only native North American marsupials. According to Julia Reed, the animal was named by Captain John Smith of the Jamestown Colony. The name was derived from the Algonquian word which means white animal.  They are first cousins to the Australian kangaroo. Females have a pouch on their belly where the young, up to 13 in number, are carried and nourished for about two months after birth.

Adult possums can be three feet long including the prehensile tail. They cannot hang from a tree limb, a posture immortalized by the character in the comic strip Pogo.

They weigh as much as fourteen pounds depending on how well fed they are. Possums are omnivores. That means they will eat anything. Their diet includes insects, snails, rodents, berries, fruit, grasses, and leaves. Possum favorites seem to be pet food, garbage, and other roadkill. Yum! They are nocturnal animals, prowling around at night and sleeping during the day.

Playing possum is a defensive tactic the critter employs when frightened. Playing possum is feigning death. If you see one lying in the middle of the road, he is probably not pretending. Chances are he is really dead.

When I was a boy, my family lived on a dirt road until the area across the road from us was developed and homes were built. Early one morning, construction workers across the way found a possum scuffling around inside a nail keg where garbage had been thrown the day before. They trapped the possum by putting a scrap of hardware cloth over the keg holding it in place with a brick.

I wandered across the road to see what was going on. The workmen said I could have the possum for a pet. Wow! That afternoon, my dad and I built a cage that looked something like a rabbit pen. My pet possum had a home, or so I thought. The next morning I found the cage empty. The possum had chewed through the wood. Blood was everywhere, and the possum was gone. Possums don’t make good pets.

Possums are not clean animals. They eat dead animals as small as a slug or as big as a horse. They are sometimes referred to as the sanitation workers of the wild. These critters can carry parasites and rabies, although rabies incidents are less frequent than in other animals, such as raccoons. Possums have a strong immune system, so strong they can devour venomous snakes with no ill effect. Possums also have a strong offensive odor, except to other possums. That is the reason they have so many little possums.

Some folks eat possums. As Reed points out, a recipe for cooked possum was to be found in the Joy of Cooking as late as the 1960s. Clare had a copy of that edition of the cookbook given to us as a wedding gift. I’m not sure the recipe is in our copy. One of our dogs partially devoured the cookbook.

President William Howard Taft considered the possum a delicacy. Julia Reed reports that when the rotund president was the honored quest at a banquet in Atlanta, Georgia, he requested that possum be the main fare. One hundred quests were served boiled, baked, and basted possum with a side of sweet potatoes.

Julia tells the story of a special cocktail named Possum Drop. At a place called Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge, a New Orleans establishment lit only by Christmas lights, a customer was seated at the bar enjoying a shot of Jägermeister. Suddenly a possum fell through the tiled ceiling startling the customer and spilling his drink into a pint of Schlitz.

Voilà! The Possum Drop cocktail was born!

You really should find the April/May issue of Garden and Gun. Julia Reed’s article begins on page 103.

Because possums are prolific, they have to find new places to live. They will live in a variety of habitats. They will make themselves right at home when they move into the neighborhood. Undersides of porches, decks, and tool sheds provide an ideal home. That puts them within striking distance to raid garbage cans and steal pet food. They are excellent climbers. Possums can be found living in attics, where they make a terrible mess and a lot of noise. It is a very good idea to get rid of possums if they are hanging out around your house.

Have you ever wondered how to get rid of a possum? There is no magic spray or device to make them go away. Some people have tried predator urine, such as coyote or fox urine, to get rid of possums. Not only does it not keep possums away, it makes the odor problem worse, and it is hard to come by. Coyote and fox are not necessarily interested in cooperating.

Some have recommended mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags to make possums leave, but that doesn’t always work either. One way to take care of the possum problem is by trapping and removing them.

My sister-in-law tells about a time when a couple in her church in rural North Carolina paid a visit to her home. The woman had long gray hair. It was pulled up into a large beehive hairdo, in the style of the 1970s, held in place by maximum-strength hair spray. In the course of the conversation, my sister-in-law thought she saw something moving in the woman’s hair. Struggling to maintain eye contact with her guest, my sister-in-law caught a glimpse of a small face peeking out from the beehive. She politely asked about the critter in the hairdo. The woman pulled three baby possums out of her elaborate coiffure, and, turning to her husband, said, “Show ’er the ones you’ve got, Earl.” Earl reached into his shirt and brought from his considerable chest hair another two baby possums.

“Ain’t they cute? Their mama got killed in the road in front of our place, so we took  ‘em in,” the woman explained.

My sister-in-law was speechless for a moment, and then recovered, “What are you going to do with them?”

“We’re gonna keep  ‘em and fatten  ‘em up. Then we’re gonna eat  ‘em.”

That’s one way to get rid of a possum.

CELEBRATE THE FOURTH OF JULY

June 30, 2017

My mother, Louise Hudson Neely, was born July 4, 1922. When I was a little boy, I was impressed that on her birthday, everybody took the day off. The entire Neely family, as many as fifty-six of us, gathered at the farm near Walnut Grove for the afternoon. We enjoyed a picnic featuring fried chicken, soggy tomato sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, deviled eggs, and blackberry cobbler. We went swimming in the pond. Some tried fishing, but the mosquitoes bit more than the fish. After a supper of leftovers, we watched as our uncles put on a fireworks display.

Because it was Mama’s birthday, it took me a while to realize that all of the festivities were not in her honor. Instead, we were celebrating the birth of our nation.

On Tuesday, July 4, 2017, Americans will observe Independence Day. The reason we celebrate is that in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. The American colonies officially separated themselves from the authority of England.

When I was a student at Cooperative School, one of my teachers required the class to memorize a brief passage from the Declaration. At the family picnic on July fourth, we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. My grandfather led us all in a blessing, not only for the good food and our family, but also for our country. Those of us who had memorized the selection from the Declaration of Independence repeated it by heart.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Independence Day celebrations were observed soon after the nation’s birth. The Moravians of Salem, North Carolina, were among the first to mark the day with a torchlight procession around the village square singing “Now Thank We All Our God.” When Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, we took our children to Old Salem to experience the reenactment of that simple celebration.

On a trip out West, I learned that explorers Lewis and Clark were the first to observe Independence Day west of the Mississippi. On July 4, 1804, traveling along the Missouri River through what is now Kansas, the expedition stopped for the night at the mouth of a stream. To celebrate, they fired a cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whiskey to their men. Independence Creek was named in honor of the day.

It was not until after the War of 1812 that the holiday became a nation-wide celebration. Parades were part of the festivities. Politicians used the occasions to give rousing speeches. Events like groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July Fourth celebrations.

Several years ago, Clare, our children, and I celebrated Independence Day at Pawley’s Island. Residents and summer guests put on one of the most interesting parades I have ever seen. The route included two causeways and a stretch of road along the ocean front. All were invited to participate. Vintage cars, convertibles, pickup trucks including some towing boats, bicycles pulling red wagons, costumed people on rollerblades, senior citizens walking their grandchildren or their dogs, and one old codger leading a Billy goat all joined in. Music was provided by a sound system on the back of a rollback wrecker. Everything and everybody was decorated in red, white, and blue. The entire procession was accompanied by vigorous flag waving.

The most unusual feature of the Pawley’s Parade was the water battles all along the route. Onlookers armed with water guns, water balloons, and water hoses doused the marchers. Those in the parade were equally well prepared for counterattack. In good-natured fun, everyone got soaked. On a hot July day on the coast of South Carolina, a cool refreshing drenching was welcomed. Even the goat seemed to enjoy it.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and John Adams was its strongest supporter in the Continental Congress. They were political opponents after the Revolutionary War and ran against each other for president. John Adams’s last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” In fact, Jefferson had died a few hours before.

Five years later, July 4, 1831, James Monroe, our fifth president, died.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau declared his personal independence and moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. Thoreau built the small dwelling himself. It cost twenty-eight dollars and twelve cents to build. Thoreau left Walden Pond in September 1847.

On July 4, 1855, the first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was printed. It included twelve poems.

Independence Day was not only Mama’s birthday. The first great American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. Other notables who have an Independence Day birthday are President Calvin Coolidge (1872), bandleader Mitch Miller (1911), twin sisters and advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren (1918), and actress Gina Lollobrigida and playwright Neil Simon (1927).

On the fourth of July 2010, a little girl was born. Allie Louise Neely was named after the great-grandmother with whom she shares a birthday. Just like her great-grandmother before her, Allie is a firecracker! Now our family has a new reason to celebrate the day. We will dress in red, white, and blue. There will be good food and, of course, flag waving. Some of the family may go to Barnet Park to attend the Red, White, and Boom event and enjoy the fireworks display. Allie may think the festivities are all about her, but, in time, she will realize as I did that this celebration is much bigger than any one person. This is the birthday of the United States of America.

Many Americans view the holiday as an opportunity to pursue happiness. As always, alcohol does not mix with automobiles, boats, fireworks, and water sports. Hazards are not the way to happiness.

My grandfather said, “He who has a fifth on the fourth, will not come forth on the fifth.”

The fourth of July is a special day for many reasons. Whatever your celebration includes, please be careful.

We don’t want to lose a single one of you.

SUMMERTIME IS PEACH TIME

June 24, 2017

Last week Clare and I purchased the first peaches of the season. The peaches were June Gold, a cling variety grown in Spartanburg County. Sun-kissed peaches are delicious and nutritious, good tasting and good for you. A tree-ripened peach is soul food.

The first bite of the first peach tastes exactly the way summertime is supposed to taste, sweet and flavorful with peach juice running down your chin. In my case, a double chin with a beard.

The peach is the state fruit of South Carolina and Georgia. Georgia is home to baseball player Ty Cobb, nicknamed the Georgia Peach. Though Georgia is known as the Peach State, South Carolina produces more peaches than any other Southern state. No matter which corner of the Palmetto State you visit, you’ll find roadside stands selling peaches in summer.

Travel across the Upstate, and you’ll see green hills covered with peach orchards. Abbott Farms, Belue Farms, Cash Farms, Cooley Farms, Cotton Hope Peach Farm, Fisher Orchards, Hood Farms, Gramling Farms, Lemmons Farms, McDowell Farms, Peach Country, Perdeaux Fruit Farm, and Ragan Orchards all suffered from a mid-March frost this year. Usually a dip in the thermometer to a few degrees below freezing will serve to thin the crop. However, in 2017, following several weeks of warmer than normal weather, the temperature plunged to nineteen degrees. I spoke with James Cooley on Wednesday about this year’s harvest. He reports that the extent of the damage to the peach crop is unknown, but he does expect to have plenty of peaches.

Peach cobbler, peach pie, and peach ice cream will abound!

The South Carolina Peach Festival will be held in Cherokee County July 7 – July 22, 2017. From an inauspicious weekend event in 1977 to this year’s fortieth anniversary extravaganza, the Peach Festival has become the premier summer event in the Upstate.

The Festival first gained national attention in 1978 when volunteers prepared the World’s Largest Peach Pie.

In 1981, the largest of all peaches was unveiled. A one million-gallon water tank, The Peachoid, is located along Interstate 85. It serves as the gateway to the town of Gaffney.

In 1989, the South Carolina Peach Festival broke the Guinness world record for having the most guitarists playing and vocalists singing the same song, “Louie, Louie.” The event was broadcast on national television.

This two-week-long event salutes the peach industry with concerts, sporting events, a parade, truck and tractor pulls, and delicious peach desserts.

At Cooley Springs on Highway 11, travelers find a favorite stopping place. Strawberry Hill features not only ripe red berries in spring, but also blushing peaches in summer. The restaurant serves a hearty breakfast, a delicious lunch, and hand-dipped ice cream. The stylized peach shed features fresh produce most of the year.

James Cooley is a third-generation peach farmer. He won recognition in 2013 as the South Carolina Farmer of the Year and went on to be awarded the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year in October of 2013. Cooley has an establishment that is the epitome of Southern hospitality. Visitors are greeted as if they were friends and neighbors. While members of the Cooley clan and other employees wait on retail customers, James will probably be on his forklift, loading pallets of peaches on tractor trailers headed for markets across the southeast.

Along with cherries, plums, and apricots, peaches are stone fruits. The fuzzy fruit comes in many varieties of either yellow or white flesh. My favorite varieties are the yellow freestones, O’Henry and Monroe, and the white Georgia Belle.

The nectarine, a non-fuzzy cousin, is also a southern favorite. Clare prefers the Spartanburg County-grown yellow nectarines.

The scientific name persica, along with the word peach, derives from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia. The consensus now is that they originated in China, and were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road. Peaches were mentioned in Chinese documents as far back as the tenth century B.C. They were a favored fruit of the emperors.

The peach was brought to America by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. In Queen Victoria’s day, many a meal was made complete with a fresh peach presented in a cotton napkin.

Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, United States farmers did not begin commercial production until the nineteenth century.

Today, peaches are second only to apples as the largest commercial fruit crop in the States.

I grew up enjoying Upstate peaches. My mother-in-law made peach jam that was the perfect companion to her melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. My grandmother and my mother made the best peach cobbler in the world. Though their original recipe probably was slightly different, the one below is close.

 

PEACH COBBLER

INGREDIENTS

8 fresh peaches – peeled, pitted, and sliced into thin wedges

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into small pieces

1/4 cup boiling water

 

MIX TOGETHER:

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a large bowl, combine peaches, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour into a 2-quart baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.

Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonfuls of batter mixture over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve this peach cobbler warm with vanilla ice cream.

I’ll make you a promise. If you eat enough of this peach cobbler, you, too, can have peach juice running down your own double chin.

A WEDDING ANNIVERSARY ON FATHERS’ DAY

June 17, 2017

This year, two important days fall on the same calendar date. On Sunday June 18, 2017, Clare and I will celebrate our fifty-first wedding anniversary. Sunday is also Father’s Day. Maybe this particular convergence of days has happened before. I just don’t recall ever celebrating these two days together.

For me this was a poignant reminder of the connection between two important roles. Being a husband and being a father are closely connected in more ways than the most obvious one. Clare and I love each other. Our love has deepened over these fifty-one years. Our five children and thirteen grandchildren are the happy blessings of our long-term marriage.

When I met Clare I was smitten. It was love at first sight. We were attracted to each other initially and soon became best friends. That friendship has grown as our respect, devotion, and affection for each other has matured. The home we have created, the garden we have cultivated, and the memories we have made all increase the strength of our bond.

The role of husband and father blend in such a way that now our grandchildren notice.

Recently, one of them asked me, “Papa Kirk, is Mama Clare your girlfriend?”

“Yes, “I said. She has been my girlfriend for a long time. She is my very best friend.”

“That’s a good thing because you are so old you probably couldn’t get a girlfriend now.”

“I am old,” I replied. “I have the one girlfriend that is special to me.”

I could almost see the wheels turning inside that child’s head. After all these years, what Clare and I have been able to do, only by the grace of the good Lord, is provide an example of strength and stability, love and commitment to those who follow. We are grateful every day for that gift.

This combination of roles is illustrated in two rather improbable stories.  I don’t recall where I first heard these stories, but I do know that Paul Harvey told both of them. I have received them several times by e-mail; always told together.

The first story tells of a young Chicago attorney named Edward who became connected with the crime boss Al Capone in 1927.  The two were first involved in the illegal sport of dog racing.  The lawyer became one of Capone’s favorite colleagues and represented members of the Capone mob for crimes including murder, gambling, and prostitution. Known within the mob as Easy Eddie, Edward’s shrewd legal mind enabled him to rig trials, bribe juries, and pay off law enforcement officers. This skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone always handsomely rewarded Easy Eddie.

Apart from his life of crime, Easy Eddie doted on his family. He loved his wife. His three children – a son and two daughters – were his delight.  At some point, Easy Eddie decided that he owed his children more than just the material and financial advantages that came from his life of crime.  He wanted to provide for them a good education. Despite his own involvement with organized crime, Eddie and his wife tried to teach his children right from wrong. He realized that he could not provide them with a good example and a name of which they could be proud.

Wanting to give his children an example of integrity, Edward made a difficult decision.  In an attempt to rectify the wrongs he had done, he became a witness for the prosecution and testified against Al Capone and other members of the mob.  As a result, Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of income tax evasion.

On November 8, 1939, while driving in the Cicero section of Chicago, Eddie was gunned down when a mobster pulled up beside him and opened fire with a machine gun.  Eddie died instantly. It is a sad ending to the story of a family man who tried to set things right.

The second story involves a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  When the United States entered World War II, this twenty-eight year old lieutenant became a pilot and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, deployed in the South Pacific.  Known to his colleagues as Butch, this pilot of a single-engine fighter plane and his entire squadron were sent on a mission February 20, 1942.

Once airborne, Butch looked at his fuel gauge and realized that the crew on the aircraft carrier had neglected to fill his tank.  His commander ordered him to return to the carrier, accompanied by a wingman.  Reluctantly, Butch dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As the two planes made their way back to the carrier, they saw a squadron of Japanese bombers flying toward the Lexington.  The enemy was only about four minutes away from their intended target.  Butch and his wingman decided to attack, but the guns on the second plane had jammed.  Butch, his fighter plane low on fuel, was the only defense between the Japanese bombers and the more than 2,000 men who remained on board the USS Lexington.

The daring pilot flew at the enemy.  Wing-mounted 50-caliber guns blazed as he charged, attacking one surprised Japanese bomber and then another. He flew underneath one plane, blasting its fuel tanks and causing it to explode.  Peeling off, he attacked another from above.

Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

In a matter of minutes, he had destroyed five of the nine bombers.  Pilots aboard the Lexington who were able to take off after Butch first engaged the bombers shot down three more.  The ninth Japanese plane crashed at sea.

Butch flew his damaged fighter back to the carrier. Film from the gun camera, which was mounted on his plane, told the tale of his heroic action.

The lieutenant became the Navy’s first ace pilot of World War II.  He was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered to him a personal commendation.

One year later in another air fight, this courageous pilot died when his plane was shot down by enemy fire.

Revered in his hometown of Chicago, Butch O’Hare is remembered as a hero.  O’Hare International Airport is named for him. Butch’s memorial is located between Terminals 1 and 2. There you can find a statue of the courageous pilot and a display of his Medal of Honor.

So, how are these two stories connected?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s beloved son. Edward O’Hare would have been proud of his son and his good name.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

A good name is one of the most important gifts any father can give to his children.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

June 12, 2017

Today is the birthday of Annelies Marie Frank, born 12 June 1929.

Anne Frank became a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. She gained fame posthumously following the publication of The Diary of a Young Girl, in which she documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne’s diary is one of the world’s most widely known books and has been the basis for several plays and films.

For her thirteenth birthday on 12 June 1942, Anne received a book she had shown her father in a shop window a few days earlier. Although it was an autograph book, bound with red-and-white checkered cloth and with a small lock on the front, Anne decided she would use it as a diary, and she began writing in it almost immediately. In her entry dated 20 June 1942, she lists many of the restrictions placed upon the lives of the Dutch Jewish population.

Here are a few quotes from her diary.

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.”

THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

June 11, 2017

Clare and I recently purchased a new flag to display on the front of our home. For years we have proudly hung the flag that draped the casket of Clare’s father, Mr. Jack, Jackson S. Long. Mr. Jack served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.  His honor flag was presented to Clare at his funeral.

Over time the old flag that served us well for so many years became worn and faded. Made of cotton, the flag could not last forever.

The new flag is fashioned from heavy synthetic material purported to be more durable than the old cotton banner. We hung it on our front porch just before Memorial Day and will display it there until Labor Day. In the near future we will invite a local Boy Scout troop to help us properly retire the former flag.

Our grandchildren have been keenly interested in the new flag. They enjoy rubbing the shiny surface and watching it blow in the wind. Some of the older children have taken an interest in the history of the flag. Perhaps this brief refresher will help all of us appreciate the history of our flag.

June 14 is celebrated in the United States as National Flag Day. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on that date in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. While Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, many Americans mark the day as our family does by displaying the flag. As Flag Day approaches on June 14, these reminders may help us pause and give the flag the honor it deserves.

The early flags of the United States of America were all hand sewn. Each flag has a unique history. For Flag Day, allow me to repeat some of those best-known stories.

The Stars and Stripes

Legend holds that George Washington visited Betsy Ross on July 4, 1776, and commissioned her to make the first American flag. Elizabeth Griscom was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She married John Ross in 1773. The couple began an upholstery business together, drawing on her needlework skills.

John Ross was killed in January 1776 on militia duty. Betsy married an American sailor who died as a prisoner of war. Then she married a soldier who died from the wounds of war. Betsy was three times the widow of patriots.  She continued the upholstery business, supporting and rearing her seven daughters.

The story of Betsy Ross’ commission to make the first American flag, as told by her grandson, was first published in Harper’s Monthly in 1873.  The account received wide acceptance. By the 1880s, many school textbooks included the story.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution, establishing the standard for flags of the United States. The wording of that document describes the Stars and Stripes: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Tradition says that Betsy Ross made the flag, using fabric from a white petticoat, a red shirt, and a blue coat. The colors held symbolic significance – white for purity, red for valor, and blue for loyalty. The stars were placed in a circle to show equality among the original states.

The American flag was lightly regarded during the early years of the nation. Long before it flew on the moon or fluttered over the White House; long before it reached the North Pole or the summit of Mount Everest; long before it was hoisted by Marines at Iwo Jima, folded by an honor guard into a triangle at Arlington National Cemetery, or unfurled by firefighters above the ashes of the World Trade Center, the American ensign was just a patchwork of cloth. That all changed during the War of 1812.

The Star-Spangled Banner

The British fleet made preparations for an attack on the United States. In Baltimore, Major George Armistead at Fort McHenry was ready to defend the harbor. He expressed a desire for a large flag to fly over the fort, one the British could see from out at sea, miles away.

Mary Pickersgill, a prominent Baltimore flag maker, received the order for an oversized American flag to measure 30×42 feet. Pickersgill was an experienced maker of ships’ colors.

She and her assistants spent seven weeks designing and stitching the garrison flag. They sewed by candlelight, sitting on the floor of Claggett’s Brewery, the only space in East Baltimore large enough to accommodate the project. They assembled the dark blue field and the red and white stripes of the flag by piecing together strips of loosely woven English wool bunting.  Each of the fifteen horizontal red and white stripes measured two feet wide.  Each of the fifteen five-pointed white cotton stars measured two feet across. They were sewn into the upper left quarter, forming the flag’s canton, the rectangle of deep blue fabric which measured 16×21 feet. In all, the large flag required 300 yards of fabric.

Pickersgill’s flag was flying over Fort McHenry when the British fleet attacked on September 12, 1814. Intense bombardment targeted Fort McHenry on the evening of September 13. Heavy shelling continued for twenty-five hours.  British ships were unable to pass the fort and penetrate the harbor. The attack ended and the fleet retreated.

As dawn broke on the morning of September 14, the battered flag still flew above the ramparts of the fort. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, celebrated the sight of the flag in a poem. His words became our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Old Glory

In 1820, William Driver, a young sea captain, was presented a flag by his mother in Salem, Massachusetts. The hand-sewn flag was designed to be flown from the mast of the whaling vessel Charles Doggett. The flag had twenty-four stars and included a small anchor stitched in the corner of its blue canton.

As he left the harbor for a trip around the world, Captain Driver was the first to hail the flag as Old Glory. It served as the official flag throughout the voyage.

Driver retired from the sea in 1837 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, taking his cherished flag with him. He flew his beloved flag on all patriotic occasions. When the Civil War broke out some thirty years later, he stuffed Old Glory as batting inside a comforter to conceal it from the Confederate Army.

The Pledge of Allegiance

In 1985, I traveled with a group of scouts to the National Boy Scout Jamboree.   En route, we visited the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. We stood gazing at the original Star-Spangled Banner, the same one flown over Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words of our national anthem. We marveled at the large size of that tattered flag.

Spontaneously, an Eagle Scout from Georgia snapped to attention, saluted, and recited, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

Immediately, a host of scouts and other visitors joined in as we honored our flag and affirmed loyalty to our country.

On this Flag Day, we might all salute and to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.