By David Cecelski
One of the things I most like to do this time of year is sit out by the garden at dusk and watch the fireflies. I like the summer air and I like the way the silhouettes of the garden’s architecture look in the fading light: the trellis that the pole bean vines are climbing, the teepees I made for the butterbeans, the tomato stakes. I listen to the barred owls and the tree frogs, and some nights, like last night, I watch lightning storms coming out of the south until the rain drives me inside.
After several years of drought, my garden is rejoicing in all the rain that we’ve had this spring. So far everything is thriving out there. I harvested my broccoli weeks ago now and I’m almost done picking the red cabbage. I already have more yellow squash than I can give away and I’ve been harvesting cucumbers for nearly a week. My basil is all bushy and my dill flowers are as pretty as they can be. The pole bean and butterbean vines are also starting to flower and all the late summer stuff—the peppers, okra, sunflowers, etc.—are coming along well too.
These days what’s ripe in the garden decrees what we’ll put on the dinner table. Last night’s supper was in honor of my daughter’s high school graduation and came mostly out of the garden. I made a fresh basil pesto sauce and stirred it into pasta, I baked a squash casserole and I served sliced cucumbers, chilled, with apple vinegar, the way the old folks back home do.
The recipe I used for the squash casserole came from my friend Libby, who got it from her Aunt Dot in Chapel Hill. The recipe is simple, but delicious: You sauté 3 cups of sliced squash and 2/3 cup of onion together in oil. (Libby prefers using a sweet onion like a Vidalia.) Drain and set aside. Then beat 2 eggs with 1 cup milk. Add salt and pepper, a sprig of dill and a little nutmeg. Next, add the squash and onions to that mixture and pour into a casserole. Top with 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese and ½ cup of Saltines or Ritz crackers, crushed. Bake ½ hour at 350. The dish serves 3-4.
Aunt Dot’s casserole doesn’t have many ingredients or adornments, which I think is what you usually want in a recipe for homegrown produce, especially the first of the summer when you’re still just so excited about having fresh vegetables again. Her recipe lets you relish the squash’s freshness and buttery flavor. Last night we picked the squash young, so they’d be especially tender, and while the casserole was baking, we sat outside by the garden and watched the fireflies.