Vegetable Supper

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015 in Musings | 4 comments

I knew summer had come when we packed our green Mercury station wagon and headed out of Atlanta for Montreat, North Carolina, the mountain retreat for Southern Presbyterians nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just west of Asheville. Nothing said freedom like rolling down the windows, hanging my head out to feel the warm, humid air blowing through my hair as we headed north on I-85. No more homework. No more early bedtimes. Just wide open days to explore, swim in icy cold Lake Susan and read for hours in the Pawley’s Island Hammock on the porch.

The drive took four hours, mostly on highways and then on the windy roads through North Georgia and into North Carolina. The distance between the town of Black Mountain and Montreat was two miles and by the time we got onto this road, I was ticking off the familiar houses and landmarks, looking for one in particular.

Max Tweetys’s Produce Stand.

It was an old brown wooden building with a corrugated metal roof. It was open on three sides and the tables of produce were out front, shaded by the roof. Pyramids of cantaloupes and honeydew melons. Bins of deep red tomatoes. Tangled piles of blackeyed peas and lima beans in their shells. Stacks of yellow-tassled corn. Okra. Onions. Pole Beans. Fuzzy crimson peaches. All ripe and warm in the heat of the late afternoon, the smell of musky sweetness, dust and husks.

Max sat in the back of the stand, under a slow-moving ceiling fan that barely moved the warm June air. You had to look hard to see him in his low chair.

We would get the food we needed for the first few days at the cottage. Biltmore Farms milk, eggs, cheese and ice cream. A loaf of Sunbeam Bread. A jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise. He had these basics along with Double Bubble bubble gum, Atomic Fireballs and a metal cooler full of ice cold bottled Cokes.

While my parents filled the brown paper bags with produce, I dreamed of tomato sandwiches dripping with mayonnaise. Slow cooked black eyed peas and pole beans perfumed with fat back and sweet onions. Creamed corn cooked in bacon fat. Slippery okra with butter and salt. Summer food. Vegetable Suppers.

It’s still my favorite way to eat in the summer. Living in California, though, I’ve made some adjustments. I’m likely to have avocado and maybe a disc of goat cheese on my plate and dress the vegetables with a vinaigrette of shallots, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Some torn basil leaves. Things Max Tweety wouldn’t have sold in his roadside stand. I still cook my beans and peas with salt pork and saute corn and sweet onions in bacon fat. And nothing can beat a drippy, mayonnaisey tomato sandwich eaten over the sink. No ma’am.

4 Comments

  1. Beautiful. Those tomatoes you only get where the nights stay hot and humid are the tastiest. Where is the boarder between Hellmans and Dukes, or is it more a cultural thing?

    • Dukes has no sugar in it and is tangy and rich. Wish we could get it out here more easily. It’s my favorite mayonnaise.

  2. I still think about Max Twitty’s vegetable stand between Black Mountain and Montreat NC to this day and even day-dream about creating a modern version of the same. What I remember most about it was the ripe smell of various local produce and the open-air ambiance of the place, complete with a few fruit flies attracted to the bulging peach baskets. These days we go to the Farmer’s Market in Asheville, but obviously bigger is not always better at least when warm memories of childhood come into play. Tomatoes ringed around the back porch sill. Bushels of corn stored under the table. My Grandmother popping string beans on the front porch with a big metal pot in her lap and a dated The Charlotte Observer newspaper catching the refuse. Family meals around the big round oak table. Those were the days of absolute freedom of being a kid free to roam every nook and cranny of a lush Blue Ridge Mountain valley without a care in the world.

    • Oh, yes the fruit flies! All that produce baking in the heat and humidity always seemed on the verge of being overripe, but really it tasted and smelled like perfection. You brought back even more memories my, fellow Montreat cohort!

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