The world's "champeen" Victory Garden-grower passed from this life a year ago tomorrow.
Our Aunt Frances, up until a week before she died last May 22 at 102, was still recalling how she and Uncle Herbert once raised their own food to reduce the pressure on the food supply brought on by World War II.
Any time my hubby and I arrived at her assisted-living facility and mentioned that our new garden looked promising or that we had just brought in our first peaches or that we were planning to put up this year's beet pickles, immediately Aunt Frances' eyes would light up. She always would reply, "Oh, you know, Herbert and I had a Victory Garden during World War II. He grew tomatoes the size of grapefruit just outside our door."
Even though she might be a little forgetful about remembering names, Aunt Frances--my mother's older sister, to whom my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden is dedicated--never forgot a single detail about this 1940s enterprise, which saw citydwellers such as Frances and Herbert set aside plots in their yards to cultivate their own homegrown food.
As war raged overseas, Victory Gardens became a major part of daily life on the home front. The government called on citizens to feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.
Besides tomatoes, she and Herbert also had large expanses of speckled butterbeans that scaled their cedar fence at their bungalow on South Montreal Street in Dallas' Oak Cliff.
Afterward a leviathan canning effort in Frances' kitchen followed the harvest. Aunt Frances and her lifelong friend, Olive Rhodes, would labor over batches of stewed tomatoes, butterbeans (see recipe below), and other items.
As with quilting bees of old, girltalk and fellowship shared over the hiss of the pressure-cooker and the steam of boiling-water baths forged relationships forever. No wonder Aunt Frances, though wheelchair-bound and frail with advancing age, had this memory ready for immediate recall every time my hubby and I made chance mention of our own garden!
Her recipe, Butterbeans with Ham, is memorable as well.
Aunt Frances, we miss your stories, miss how your eyes twinkled when you recalled the long-ago, and--even though you were thoroughly ready to go meet your Savior and be reunited with Uncle Herbert--miss having you on this earth.
On this anniversary of your passing, we celebrate your life and thank God that because of your faith in Him, you are enjoying a Victory in heaven even greater than the one your Victory Garden ever brought.
Butterbeans with Ham
1 pound fresh butterbeans
1/2 cup bacon drippings
1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 pound cooked ham, cubed
2 ham hocks
1 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and sort beans. In the refrigerator soak them overnight in cold water. When they are ready to cook, rinse beans once again in cold water. In large pot melt bacon drippings. Add bell peppers, onion, and celery. Saute until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, ham, and ham hocks and cook 5 additional minutes. Add butterbeans and enough cold water to cover beans about 2 inches. Add green onions; bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to simmer and allow to cook 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep vegetables from scorching. Continue to cook about 1 hour until beans are tender. Stir occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With a stirring spoon mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot until they are creamy in nature. Garnish with parsley. Be sure the beans are tender before you serve them. Serves 6-8.