Sunday we made our usual trip to the beach, stopping at Church Street Deli and then continuing on to Salter Path/Indian Beach. I've gotten into the habit of checking out the little "marquee" in front of the produce stand we like just to see what they think is the best for the day. Louis hates melons but I was already planning on getting a cantaloupe on our way back home. As we passed the stand, I was greeted by one of the most inviting words displayed along the top of the sign.
I couldn't help but excitedly yell, "Butter beans!" Fresh butter beans (lima beans to you non-Southerners) are one of my favorite things in the world. I almost teared up at the thought of sitting in front of our fireplace shelling a bucket of butter beans. When we would visit my grandparents in Arkansas during the summer, one of the kids' job was to shell the butter beans. The boys may not have liked this part of the day, but I loved it. Eat breakfast, shell beans, play in the pool, eat blueberries straight off the bush, try to terrorize the cows, pretend to fish... looking back on it, those days were perfect.
For dinner, almost everything was fresh out of the garden: butter beans, cantaloupe, sliced tomatoes (which I didn't eat, but they were so pretty), "creamed" corn, watermelon, purple hull peas, okra (which I also didn't eat at the time). The vegetables varied from meal to meal but at dinner there was always plenty of cornbread. Not that sweet, dry, dense, yellow stuff, I'm talking about savory, beautiful, white cornbread with margarine on the side--also one of my favorite things in the world. Dessert, at least once a summer, was homemade vanilla ice cream that we (the kids) had to crank by hand in the backyard topped with fresh picked juicy, sweet peaches. It was all so simple, but so wonderful and magical by comparison to my general suburban life.
I desperately wanted the butter beans to still be in their shells, but someone at the farm had already shelled them. Which meant they were considerably more expensive than they should have been, yet, having the fresh beans was still amazing. My grandfather died when I was in high school. I don't remember the exact reason, but I wasn't allowed to go to his funeral. He died of Alzheimer's so I had said my goodbyes a couple years before he actually died. But since then, I think about shelling butter beans with him every summer. Sitting on the brick hearth while he shelled the purple hull peas and us kids working on the butter beans.
Monday, I did my best to recreate a summer dinner at my grandparents'. I had to work with what I had and what I could find, so it wasn't completely right. The cantaloupe, cornbread and butter beans were my favorite things as a kid, so I at least got those three things in there. Oddly enough, cornbread is the hardest thing for me to make. My grandma and my mom don't use a recipe and it is always perfect: crispy bottom, golden top, fluffy and moist inside. I got the closest on Monday, but I'm not quite there yet. Also I think my grandpa would have really liked chicken this way. I wish I had had the chance to really cook for him; he would have been proud of his girl.