A Garden of Memories

How many of you grew up on a farm or remember your mom and dad’s garden? As this summer’s heat is bearing down, I think about them often. The seeds, the weeds, the bugs, the heat, the rain, the memories and sharing the bounty. I’m sure our 10 under 40 have memories about someone special.

My Dad had a way of always being positive. He believed in a tiny seed laying in the dirt. He always said to just plant them and tell them to grow. That’s what I do. I put the seed in the ground and say, “Now grow!” 

This spring my husband prepared the garden for planting by putting up a fence to protect the young plants. However, over half were bitten by the late snow. Forgiving myself for being too anxious to get everything planted, I planted seeds a second time. Sprouts appeared, so I was happy. 

New to our garden this year are Brussels sprouts, garlic, and delicata squash. How do you know when they are ready to harvest, how big do they get, what plants will they grow best near? All questions I wished I could ask Dad. Now I know the Brussels sprouts are way too crowded with the butternut squash. So fun to see the little sprouts appear and the long trails of squash shoots reach out around the tomatoes and corn. Our daughter Martha dried Delicata Squash seeds and saved them for us to try. The little babies are so cute. 

All of our garden spaces – vegetables and flowers – fight the elements. Because of COVID19, we haven’t taken any trips, so we get to watch every phase of the garden. Usually we have been on a spring driving trip to a National Park, but by being home we are on top of any bugs, weeds, and water. Thankfully, my husband hates weeds, and keeps them at bay. 

Rain and wind are very unpredictable during the summer. I wonder about Dad’s thoughts on this subject more than any. He had acres of row crops in Arkansas – mostly rice and soybeans. If it rained, praising the Lord for blessings on Sundays at First Lutheran Church in Little Rock was in order. But the wind was dangerous and could knock down Dad’s rice. Our little garden has a few corn stalks blown down, but hardly anything to fret over. 

We’ve had a small bounty so far and we look forward to more. Lettuce, onions, garlic, radishes, spinach, and kale have been wonderful. The zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant are starting to produce. I know everything will be delicious. It is definitely worth the time and energy to have fresh vegetables on the table, in the freezer, and share with others. Dad would have had purple hull peas, okra, yellow squash, strawberries, peaches, and pecans this time of year. Mom would have made wilted lettuce, fried okra or eggplant, purple hull peas with cornbread, strawberry jam and more for a meal. Her recipe for frying eggplant and my zucchini bread are shared with you.

On behalf of Up from the Earth, I’d like to congratulate all of the 10 under 40 Class of 2020 for their community work and individual successes. May you all know the joy of having good mentors in your life as I did. Mine happened to be wonderful parents, farmers and good cooks who believed in tiny seeds and helping others. 


Delores’s Southern Fried Eggplant

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 2 – 3 people

1 egg (whipped lightly in a small bowl)

½ c. yellow cornmeal (in a pie pan)

salt and pepper

1 large fresh eggplant (about 6-8” long and 4” round)

 or 6-8 skinny Japanese variety

Large iron skillet with ¼” cooking oil

Wash and cut eggplant into ½ inch slices, spread out on wax paper, and generously salt. Allow to sweat for 20 – 30 minutes. Leave the peeling on for the best flavor and use this process for any eggplant variety. The salt sweat looks like little beads of water on top of the eggplant and is key to allowing the eggplant flavor to kick start. 

Heat large skillet to a medium heat with about ¼” or less of cooking oil. 

Cooking station and notes: 

  • Heat your skillet with oil to a medium hot temp
  • Line up the following close to the skillet: eggplant, egg bowl, and cornmeal plate (add a little salt and pepper to the cornmeal)
  • Using a fork to grab a medallion, dredge it into the egg first, then into the cornmeal, then into the skillet. Your eggplant should sizzle around the edges as soon as it hits the oil. If it’s too hot, pull the pan off the heat to cool a bit. If the grease gets too hot and is burnt – throw it out and restart the pan (voice of experience).
  • Turn the eggplant over with your fork when bottom side is golden brown (2 – 3 minutes).
  • Serve immediately. 
  • Use the same recipe for okra, zucchini, and yellow neck squash.
  • If you are worried about calories, you can follow a similar recipe and bake them. Shake parmesan cheese on top – pretty darn good. 

Zucchini Bread

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Yields 2 large loaves

Heat oven to 350 and prep two 5×8 bread pans with shortening and flour.

Combine the following:

3 eggs

1 cup cooking oil (I use vegetable oil)

2 cups fresh grated zucchini with peeling (those oversized ones are perfect)

2 cups sugar

2 t. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

1 T. cinnamon

optional: add 1 cup chopped nuts or raisins

Pour into prepped pans and bake for 1 hour (check after 45 minutes, I usually find at about 50 minutes they are done and will have the right amount of moistness). Let rest about 30 minutes, then slice and spread a bit of real butter. We like eating the first slices warm out of the oven. Makes great toast. Good frozen up to a month. You can also shred and freeze the raw zucchini, my bread in February was every bit as good as this week’s version. The original recipe was in a Holstein Lutheran Church cookbook.

By Pamela Luebke Mickelson, member of the leadership team for Up from the Earth and Air Museum, retired professor of business from Morningside College, a Southern farm girl and believer in seeds. She and her husband live in rural Sergeant Bluff. Two of their children lives in Seattle, and one lives in Sioux City. 

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