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What is Summer for Chowhounds?

I just read a short article from yesterdays NY Village Voice where Nina Lalli describes summer street food in Harlem. The article is called "When the Streets are Paved with Snacks." It very much reminded me of what summer is like in ethnic NY City.


That was part of my growing in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I loved shaved ice and every street food I could beg a dime from my folks for. But that experience varied incredibly with other parts of my life which had a completely different scene.

I spent 1/2 of my summers on a Iowa farm riding horses through head high corn and over grassy fields all day with a squashed packed lunch and fresh ears of candy sweet corn just plucked for desert. Also visiting the State Fair and watching all the animal and food competions while eating corn dogs, fresh lemonade, fat ears of hot buttered corn, Iowa style Italian sausage, and then going to church suppers trying various casseroles and such.

The other 1/2 of my summers were spent on the lakes and coast of Maine with its lush woods and warm lakes, frying just caught lake fish. Spending all morning picking wild berries and getting my face and hands stained red and blue. This combined with the stark, craggy, breezy, and sometimes foggy shoreline, where I ate lobster, steamers, and fried clam bellies, washed down with stolen sips of my folks wine and beer.

What do you think of when you combine summer and food where you live or grew up? Also what area/region?

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  1. My God! You grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting!

    1. Fried chicken and potato salad, watermelon, Grandma's fruit punch in the gallon Thermos jug, hot dogs over a fire on the sand down by the creek. Cleaning stacks of roastin' ears on the back porch, corn silk everywhere. Picking berries and vegetables in Grandpa Owen's garden, then writhing in an agony of itch in church the next day, chiggers biting where I couldn't scratch in public. Illinois State Fair food: corn dogs, lemonade, fresh-fried doughnuts...and then years later, in Nashville, Italian sausage, barbecue, and discovering chitlins at the Daughters of Isis lunch counter. Oh, and fried catfish and bluegill, for sure, all summer long.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen

        Will, our childhood foods have some similarities.

        I recall: PaPa's watermelon, both red and yellow, of which he was inordinately proud, and to which he applied salt. PaPa's blackberry patch, torture for a child-laborer. More child abuse being forced to shell peas and break green beans while I watched TV at night. Every night. Homemade peach ice cream that took forever to churn and then my Dad had the nerve to make me wait another hour while it "hardened up".

        On vacation, being forced to remove myself from the ocean for an hour each day to eat lunch and then wait out the 45 minute no-cramp rule. Inhaling tiny fried Calabash shrimp by the plates full. Vacation bible school and family renuions at the church spring (our church so old it still sits by the spring where baptisms were held before there was a permanent structure) under a picnic shelter and the tables LADEN with food produced by proud, old-fashioned cooks bringing their VERY BEST to share. As far as I can tell, the tiny Calabash river shrimp and the scratch cooks at my church are both gone with the wind.

      2. Thanks for the article - I can't wait to eat one of those pork skin gorditas.
        I live in NY City and what I love best about summer is the fruit: sweet, black cherries, juicy peaches, deep-red watermelon, fragrant honeydews, spoonable papaya, etc. Summer is also Italian ices, backyard barbecues, and sweet corn.

        1. As a child, growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, summer was picking the raspberries from the bushes in our backyard with my sisters, promising to put them in the basket but stuffing our faces until everything was stained. Then we'd give some to the sweet lady next door and the next day, she'd bring a blueberry pie. Summer was also those lemonade and fruit punch drinks they served at camp in little cartons that looked like milk. They were always ice cold, sometimes half frozen. Summer was flavored popsicles, the grape ones first for me, then I'd eat the cherry ones, and then have to finish the orange so my mom would buy more. And summer was the delicious corn my dad would grow in the little garden in the backyard, plus wild strawberries we'd put sour cream and sugar on, when rabbits didn't get into the garden.

          Now, in South Florida, summer is iced tea and lemonade, or better yet, both together. It's watermelon at the beach, somewhat warm from the car trip there. It's scotch neat whenever some of my husbands friends get together. And best of all, it's lychees purchased from a grove that we visit every year. We eat several of them fresh, then rinse the rest (in their peels) in acidulated water and put them in the freezer. There is nothing better on a hot summer day than a lychee fruit eaten straight from the freezer. We served lychee martinis at our wedding 2 years ago, so for us and all of our friends & family, the fruit transports us back to that wonderful day as well.

          1. Corn on the cob with lots of butter, sweet watermelon, a bushel of crabs and cold beer...scream summer to me.

            1. Summer and food...

              melons, melons, melons; watermelon seed spitting, burgers on the grill, the glut of cherries and stained fingers and tongues, crates of sweet peaches, summer fresh basil and tomato from the garden, long sultry nights, popcorn under the stars watching the Perseid showers in August, homemade popsicles, grilled corn on the cob, grilled pineapple and peaches, grilled EVERYTHING!

              I love summertime food! It seems to always taste better.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cooknKate

                The Perseids! I've been wanting to see them since I was little, and somehow keep missing them. Thank you for opening the door for me to fantasize not only about seeing the showers of lights, but also about what I'll eat while I'm finally seeing them! Popcorn sounds good, and maybe a little campfire to toast marshmallows for s'mores somewhere up high in Yosemite...

              2. as a child, snap peas eaten off the vine. silver queen and sugar sweet corn boiled minutes after picking and eaten with lots of butter and salt. wild blueberries and red raspberries with little bugs. trying rubarb raw, wishing for a strawberry rubarb pie. weeding the small strawberries and promising not to eat them all. away from home, grilled hot dogs accidentally topped with ketchup (ugh). my dad's pesto made from fresh basil and served with linguine, peeled potatoes, and peas. my dad frying lamb chops and french fries. eating the fresh berries with cream and sugar for dessert. Forcibly eating wheat germ b/c it was supposed to make the bugs bite me less.

                1. well I live and mostly grew up in Oakland in the SF area, so when I think of summer I think of stews and pastas, and other food to eat in foggy weather... :-)

                  We did make our own ice cream now and then, but usually went to Dreyers for cones, at the original College Ave location. Fenton's was only for special occaisons, such as someone's junior high graduation or performance in a school play. Dreyers was for everyday, particularly for Sunday nights after dinner in Chinatown!

                  We did have lots of blackberry bushes in an empty field near our house, and usually ate the berries alone or with ice cream. These days, I still have blackberry bushes in the back yard, to the dismay of my neighbors, but these days late summer means pies. Guess I am a bit more ambitious than my Mother when it comes to cooking...

                  1. Locally grown tomates- for every meal in every way. Best with mayo and pepper on toast.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: stlSarah

                      that's exactly how i've been eating them for breakfast every day. w/duke's mayo. :0

                      1. re: stlSarah

                        Ooooh...homegrowns!!!! I love 'em with only a small swipe of blue cheese dressing and some cracked black pepper and they taste divine!

                        1. re: stlSarah

                          On any given summer day, assuming that not much has changed since my childhood there, the streets of Marshall, Illinois are aswarm with children carrying boxes of tomatoes to each others' houses.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            corn corn and more corn. lobster boils. corn. my father and brothers eating bowls of freshly dug steamers. corn. penny candy from the paper store. Did I mention corn??

                        2. Fresh seafood, crab boils, boiled peanuts, white acre peas, butter beans, peach ice cream, and silver queen.

                          1. Insalata Caprese. Bufallo mozarella layered with tomato slices and basil leaves. I sometimes eat this four times a week.

                            1. Oddly this all makes me sad - I grew up in stifling hot Florida so our food never changed much from winter to summer. We never ate stews or soups in winter - my mother cooked several very 50s and 60s style dishes really well and that's all we had.

                              When I read this question initially, I drew a total blank. Now reading all the replies I feel a little sad at my lack of 'summers' in Florida. So, perhaps I'll create my own summer food traditions. First thing that comes to mind is my favorite salad: honeydew melon, grilled chicken, zuchini (paper thin), drizzled with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper, topped with parmesan and mint.

                              And ice cream - always ice cream.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: krissywats

                                You go for it. The thing about traditions is that someone had to start it. It isn't a tradition until it is passed on to someone else and done for a few years. But once it is started it has a life of its own.

                              2. My grandmother's summertime eating at her home in the Bronx taught me well: ice-cold super ripe cantelope.

                                And her superstrong brewed coffee, black, on ice on the back patio.

                                1. Some childhood memories of summer:

                                  Mom and I going to a neighbor's garden to pick blackberries and the subsequent time spent in our kitchen heating berries, straining juice, and canning blackberry jelly. Oh, that aroma of hot berries! It instantly takes me back to being 6 years old.

                                  Driving in our old Nash over a wooden plank bridge over the Almaden creek to an elderly farmer's barnyard to buy washtubsful of sweet corn to freeze for winter. I got to feed milk to the barn cats and carrots to his donkey.

                                  Going with my brothers to the dried-up area reservoirs on hot, still summer days to hunt for crawdads in the creekbeds that flowed along the bottoms.. (being the youngest, I was more of a tadpole wrangler)

                                  The exotic trip to the Burger Bar when it was too hot for Mom to cook--5 burgers for $1.00. This was before McDonald's. Real "char-broiled" burgers.

                                  Sunday afternoons spent at Scaroni's beach (before red white & blue beach people took over) roasting hotdogs on willow sticks over a driftwood fire. Every Sunday for 15 years. >sigh<

                                  Bacon and pancakes cooked by my Dad at the great Forest Service campfire pit at Shasta Lake each June. The first day, he'd burn the rust off the 1/2" thick steel plate with a pound of bacon, then every morning: "Who wants pancakes?!"

                                  My first fish, a 15" smallmouth bass, cooked on the same griddle.

                                  1. Growing up in Ohio, corn roasted in the husk at my childhood friend's home; they soaked it for a whole day before throwing it on the gril. Now it's the only way I make corn in the summmer. Also, fried chicken, hot dogs, overcooked hamburgers, my mom's potato salad with eggs and Miracle whip (gross, I know, but I loved it). Popsicles of every variety, especially creamsicles; watermelon galore. Handel's ice cream (my fave combo: a scoop each of grape, banana and strawberry). Tomato sandwhiches: Fresh from the garden tomatoes sliced really thin, a little salt, some toasted white bread and a little bit of mayo and butter. Strawberries we picked ourselves and my mom's pies. Canteloupe and honeydew melons, deviled eggs.

                                    Two out of the four summers I worked on Martha's Vineyard, I lived and worked on a farm. So summer food memories from there include fresh picked corn, sugar snap peas dripping with morning dew for breakfast, strawberries picked from the farm across the road, raspberries, tons of lobster (grilled, boiled, stuffed, every way you can imagine), clams, bay scallops, red skin potatoes, pattypan squash, zuccini, peach pie in one of the most decadently buttery crusts imaginable, sometimes with blueberries. Yellow-stained fingers from the seemingly millions of tomatoes we picked; the cherry tomatoes made the best sauces, salads and in-the-field snacks. Living there made me unafraid of bruised fruit, or corn with worms, bugs, etc.: just cut the dang thing out and eat the rest.

                                    Now in Los Angeles, it's a combination of all of that to some degree, but now adding my own grilled flank steak and pasilla and red peppers for tacos; grilled corn, mussels and clams; potato salad with capers, fennel, celery, olive oil and sherry vinegar; sugar snap peas when I can find them. Peach pies and fresh whipped cream. Cherries and grapes and strawberries.

                                    1. I love it! I grew up in Maine also. I too have memories of picking berries all day. However, my little sister always ended up with more on her face then in her basket. I also remember my parents always bring home lobsters. My sister and I thought they were pets for us. We would name them and then race them in the kitchen. We had so much fun playing with them . . . that is until it was dinner time and our new pets got cooked. We had a cabin on a little lake up there and I remember leaches (YUK) sucking on your toes. Our cabin was pretty primative (outhouse and pump faucet from the lake).

                                      1. Summer for me was always about the fruit, we had a plum tree in our backyard that we would gorge ourselves on. Fresh cherry tomatoes pulled off my moms plants that would grow up through and around the neighboring orange tree every year. Watermelon and fruit salads made with the sweetest melons and Hawaiian pineapple. And of course BBQ'n, chicken, tri-tip, ribs, fish and veggies.

                                        When the gas BBQs with the side burners came out we would boil up the corn and then toss on the grill with fresh lime juice and chile..YUM!

                                        1. I, too, spent my childhood summers on the back of a horse. When it got too hot, we'd ride them into the lake and go swimming. Out of the same lake (on our property) would come bluegill before breakfast to be fried up nice and crispy. Before dinner we'd browse around the vegetable garden and pick whatever looked ready. As we didn't have air-conditioning, we'd wait until after dark to start cooking, usually outside on the grill with everyone lounging around the picnic table, talking about their day.

                                          I realize now that I was one incredibly lucky kid!

                                          1. Tomato sandwiches made from huge beefsteaks still warm from the sun. Silver Queen corn right out of the garden. Lemon popsicles from the Good Humor man. Turkish Taffy slapped on the sidewalk to break it up. My grampa's white peach ice cream, black-cured ham sandwiches and lemonade on the front porch. My granma's fried chicken (that we had to pluck that morning) and potato salad after church. Cheap beer and fried whiting, fresh-dug steamed clams, barbequed wild hog, key lime daquiris, swamp cabbage and smoked neckbones...man, I'm getting hungry.

                                            1. Hot, sunny, and quiet days, whether at the beach or in the mountains or in cities. Grilled burgers, hotdogs, shish-kebab, big sliced Jersey tomatoes, buttered corn on the cob, peach pie, strawberry shortcake, popsicles and the ice cream truck, Kool-aid, blueberry pancakes and muffins. Sunburn, salt and sand everywhere, crabs, steamers, lobsters, hiking. climbing, Dr. Bronners peppermint soap. Hot cars and long drives, bicycling everywhere. My dad gardening.