Interactive Journalism At Its Most Delicious

Last Thursday, just before I took my daily two-mile run/walk hunger struck. A few bites of watermelon did the trick. When I bit into that cold sweet watermelon a flood of summer memories rushed in. I recalled the great tastes of summer and with those memories came warm images of youth in the Georgia countryside. I saw stacks of dark green, striped watermelons, red, ripe tomatoes, and heard the beautiful grinding of a hand-cranked ice cream churn. Recalling the great tastes of summer I thought will make a good column.

I created a document and titled it “The Tastes of Summer.” I’m just one person, so I decided to see what others think. Putting the question to my Facebook friends, I wrote, “I’m working on a column, ‘The Tastes Of Summer,’ where I recall the great flavors of summer and associated memories that go back to childhood. So far I have watermelons, peaches, homemade ice cream, and tomato sandwiches up high. What’s your favorite?”

Trust me when I tell you a ton of responses came in. Thanks to a flood of replies “The Tastes of Summer” evolved into “Summer Sensations.” What began as a regionalized Georgia-South Carolina (Georgialina) topic turned into a national and international topic. Folks from up North, North Carolina, and Paris, France, contributed their memories. People from small towns, cities, the mountains, the beach, and points in between jumped into the mix. I learned something pretty fast. No matter where you grow up summer brings special memories thanks to the foods, rituals, and experiences the sunshine season delivers.

Here’s a big thanks to all the people who shared their “Summer Sensations.” I’ll not reveal full names, just first names, to conserve space. I suspect their contributions will prompt readers to consider their favorite summer sensations too. The list is diverse; the list is delicious; the list draws on nostalgia and choosing favorites is difficult. My four come down to watermelons, peaches, homemade ice cream, and tomato sandwiches. Of those one comes out on top. Guess which one?

Meanwhile enjoy others’ summer sensations. I suspect many will take you back to childhood. (Yes, I found a way to keep “The Great Tastes of Summer” part of this column.)

Coming soon to a table near you.
Coming soon to a table near you.

The Great Tastes Of Summer

I guarantee the memories that follow will spur memories of your own, and if you find some of the favorites repetitive, well, that’s proof of how popular and enduring some summer foods are. Here then are some great tastes of summer in the order I received them.

Lee likes banana popsicles from the ice cream man! Myra recalls green plums found growing on the side of the road, eaten with salt, of course! Gene mentioned marshmallows roasted black on the outside on a bent clothes hanger.

Betz remembers muscadines and scuppernongs. Mac praises blackberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe! Marianne remembers scuppernongs too. Marsha cut to the chase and served up a meal of sorts with fried chicken, pineapple sandwiches, and Vienna sausages.

Cathy said in our family homemade elderberry ice cream rules and relatives still make the elderberry wine for the ice cream every summer. Darryl remembers BBQ chicken with Mr. Hillyer Wright’s sauce! Donna loves blackberry cobbler and peach cobbler. My grandma Walkers was the best!

LeGaulois recalls popcorn at the drive-in theatre. Debbie remembers the taste of honeysuckle. “Not a food,” she said, “but tastes great!”

Debra writes “blackberry cobbler” with an exclamation point. Dianne relishes fresh strawberries with homemade/real whipping cream on angel food cake.

Patty asks, “Did anyone mention cooter stew (turtle), chicken bog, and oyster stew?” Karen writes “Fresh figs right off the tree! Still my favorite! I have three fig trees in my yard!”

Dawn said fresh corn on the cob, muscadines, fresh blackberries, green beans, and of course sweet tea. Russi remembers buttery corn on the cob, Kool-Aid, and popsicles.

John brought up frozen Snickers on a Stick at the city pool and “borrowing” a saltshaker from the kitchen and taking it to the woods to eat green plums. Also, hot scuppernongs or muscadines “lifted right off the vine” at my friend’s grandmother’s house up at Rayle.

Emily said we liked tomato sandwiches, corn on the cob, and cucumbers that were sliced thin, sprinkled with salt and squeezed dry with a little milk or cream added to them. (We now use sour cream, but we did not have it then.) The other treat was hand-churned peach ice cream.

Jay remembers hot dogs, Orange Crushes in dark bottles, Fizzies, sugar straws, Pall Mall and Owl bubble gum cigars, candy cigarettes, fresh peas and snaps, butterbeans, collards, and fresh corn on the cob and wonderful drop-dead lard filled biscuits at grandmas.

Trish loves corn on the cob. Lisa remembers picking and eating blackberries (dew berries) right out of the field. For Angie Jiffy-Pop popcorn and popsicles create summer memories.

Charlie said, “Whatever your mom put in the picnic basket for those short trips to a park after church. Snow cones helped anyone to endure the heat.”

Dianne has special memories of wild muscadines on a summer day. As for Janice she recalls hotdogs on the grill as the mosquito trucks drove through the neighborhood.

Bill brings up a favorite of mine: fresh cucumbers and onions soaked with vinegar with a little salt and pepper.

Deborah’s summer foods included corn on the cob, watermelon (with seed-spitting contests), Fizzies, root beer ice cream floats, and Cracker Jacks. Dawn recalls roast’n ears.

The Great Sensations Of Summer

Summer’s also a special time for unique events, traditions, and attendant memories that brand summer as an unforgettable time. Sure fall has its colorful leaves and winter has Christmas but summer is a season that reigns special all season long. See if some of these memories don’t sound familiar.

Marianne recalls summer church revivals and church homecomings. Mac talked about the smell of honeysuckle! For June, “It’s the taste of salt on your lips and tongue at the beach, the smell of opened books for a summer read, the smell of summer rain and the electrically charged atmosphere just before a storm; the smell of rain as it pelts dusty roads after a long drought, and then there’s just something indescribable but very palpable about the smell of a summer night.”

Marilyn remembers catching lighting bugs and sitting on the pouch at night listening to crickets. For Marsha smelling fresh-cut grass says summer.

Norma recalls snow cones, moon pies. Johnny Cakes, B-B Bats, Mary Janes, and playing in mimosa and Chinaberry trees, catching June bugs, and putting peanuts in her Coke.

For Roger grilling on the 4th of July and the smell of gunpowder from fireworks reign supreme in his memories. Norma harbors memories of swinging across the creek on a vine and playing hopscotch and rock school on the stairs.

Karen recalls making the trip to the icehouse with her daddy to buy crushed ice to make homemade ice cream. “I was mesmerized watching the men take those big blocks of ice and crush them up, putting ice into a big, thick paper bag. We had to get home fast to start taking turns turning the crank on the churn. Getting to eat some of the ice chips was a cool, welcome treat on those hot summer days in South Carolina.”

So thee you go … Oh, I almost forgot. What do I like most from this brief list: watermelon, peaches, homemade ice cream, or tomato sandwiches? It’s tough but for me watermelon best captures summer in the South. Peaches come in second.

I thank all who contributed their summer sensation to this column. It’s revealing how folks’ special memories unite us. No matter where we grew up, we all cherish many of the same things. And sharing memories makes a great way to welcome summer, which isn’t far away, and as you can see, Edgefield, South Carolina peaches are coming along nicely. And you know what that means … peach ice cream and peach cobbler!


Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].