Friday’s tour with Luis and June was the first to be graced with my Golden Pear Tomato, which I have grown from seed in my back garden, and Fresh Fig with Goat Cheese, Blueberry, and Gingered Fig Preserves. I feed the soil around the tomato bushes with pureed egg shells and bury shrimp shells for the tomoto plants’ needed calcium. Our figs are grown on our ever expanding tree from the baby tree Fred Sosnowski kindly gave me from his mammoth one at Rockville on Wadmalaw Island. The first time I remember having fresh figs was from that same tree at the Rockville Regatta, where eventually I would meet my husband on my father’s ketch, Mobjack.
Tommy Edwards is my shrimp man, from whom I buy fresh shrimp at his Shem Creek dock as soon as he comes in from sea. When he said they were medium on the phone, I thought, he means small. But when I saw them, I was impressed; the warm ocean waters have produced a goodly size shrimp already, nothing small about them. What I do with shrimp is a family recipe my mother has made all my life. When my father presented me at a black tie party, my mother made pickled shrimp. Mrs. Hamby is the household name caterer in Charleston who did the rest of the food. She asked if she could take the left over shrimp and pickling dressing home to try to duplicate it. She has published hers, but it ain’t my momma’s! We do not use white vinegar but tarragon or wine vinegar with half olive oil and half canola oil, marinated for several hours or over night.
The important thing is to save your coriander seeds from your cilantro: when cilantro goes to seed in hot weather, those green balls and then the dried balls are excellent for pickled shrimp. My mother and I also put lots of fresh bay leaf in ours. Bay grows from my mother’s neighbor’s wall over to Momma’s where she sits with her walking tour guests for tea. Her neighbor, Barbara Hollings Seigling, our Senator Fritz Hollings’ sister, always wants people to pick it as it grows so fast. I take my guests into Dr Gene Gaillard Johnson’s garden, where he grows Bay as round topiaries in the center of boxwood garden. Bay is beautiful in an ornamental garden, as well as a culinary treat when that fresh. Vidalia onion is also a must in pickled shrimp. The shrimp is already cooked and shelled when you put it in the marinade.
I also put coriander and lots of fresh basil from my garden in my latest hit of the summer, a retro dish I have unabashedly perfected from our grandmothers’ era. I call it Gazpacho Aspic. My 91 year old friend, Lucile MacLennan, whose coctail birthday party Preston and I went to last night, says her mother AND her grandmother made aspic. She got me making it, but I have taken it to a nouveau cuisine level, which I find much more appealing to our fresh from the garden tastes. Rather than starting with a can of tomatoes, I hand chop vine ripe tomatoes, cucumber, different colored bell peppers, vidalia onion, fresh garlic, adding chiffoned basil, and coriander balls. To this gazpacho I add a red wine and olive oil home made vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Dissolve 3 packages of clear gelatin in a little cold water and then stir to dissolve with a little boiled H2O. Add this cooling gelatin to the gazpacho.
Dig up your grandmother’s beautifully designed aspic tins that have been sitting unused for a generation (or comb antique shops with me). I have owned some for decades and have used them for baking tea cakes, but this is the first time I have used them for their origiunal purpose and made real aspic in them. I like to use the individual serving size so that everybody gets their own artistic design when I unmold it, all shiney and multicolored and FRESH on their Canton ware plate. Fill and refrigerate, or as old Charleston friend Richard Hutson says, put it in the ice box. Run each one under hot water individually for 3 seconds. Voila! It unmolds beautifully onto the plate. The first time I used my molds, a lady asked, “Did you make this with mold?” Stricken, I looked down at my plate. They laughed as she said she meant IN A mold.
I surround the gazpacho aspic with pickled shrimp and wisps of pickled vidalia onion. The effect is simply stunning, and the fresh taste bursting in your mouth is even better. This healthy, light, quintessential Southern summer lunch gives us room for fig tarts and fresh home made peach iced cream with my loquat liqueur and a cup of tea.
Preston and I picked the peaches last week from our neighboring tree South of Broad, the first time ever. I have only seen until now peach trees in Charleston bred for the blossoms, Peppermint Peach, we call them. THESE newly picked South of Broad peaches rival those South Carolina peaches sold at Mr Leonard’s Vegetable Bin and Burbages Corner Store. Peaches marry well with my home made Loquat Liqueur as the peach and loquat have similar flesh.
We also as a family picked Sweet Blues from Dr. Randy Bradham’s blueberry farm, our yearly trek. On the way there, I make my children and neice and nephews memorize Dr. Bradham’s WWII book quote, “Freedom is not a free gift. It is achieved by the sacrifice and patient toil of many individuals,” which we then recited for him. His is the untold tale of Hitler’s U-Boat Fortresses in Brittany, France. The children learned that a U-boat is a submarine, and that France’s hedge rows are very high, making tunnels out of the roads, a surprise for which the American soldiers were untrained.
Come in from the heat, and ride with me in my new air conditioned van as we visit friends’ homes and gardens. For those who have been on my tour, ask about going out on our boat. Saturday our family went way up the Ashley River and swam off the anchored boat in the floating fresh water off the bank of Middleton Place Plantation, where in the 18th and 19th centuries the fresh water was skimmed off the heavier salt water for flooding rice fields. I quizzed our teenagers and their friends on that history and environmental horticulture, which they got! We are blessed with refreshing, fun times such as only summer and heat can bring. Please come and enjoy Charleston. Call me at 843-577-5896–Laura