Watts family enjoys gardening for fresh summer vegetables

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By Ann Cipperly

Located in a country setting on Society Hill Road, the home of Claire and James Watts provides spacious grounds for a garden, blueberry and scuppernong bushes and fruit trees. Now that they are both retired, the Watts enjoy working in the garden and spending time with grandchildren.

Claire and James call their garden Fort Knox, as it has wire on the lower part to keep rabbits out and netting around it to prevent deer from getting to the garden.

Their garden includes several kinds of peppers and tomatoes with Cherokee purples and Early Girl being their favorites, green beans, butter beans, squash and zucchini. They also have scuppernong vines and blueberry bushes, as well as fruit trees.

Claire enjoys cooking fresh vegetables from the garden and making fruit desserts. During summer, they will have meatless meals with garden fresh vegetables and cornbread.

James makes scuppernong and blueberry wines, which is a long process. They also use the scuppernongs for snacks, and Claire makes jelly.

When the figs are ripe, Claire will make preserves or cook them down to serve at breakfast. She is sharing her recipe for Pear Honey, which is her favorite to make with fresh pears. Pies and other desserts are created from apples from trees on the property.

Claire grew up in Goodwater, and her family moved to Wedowee when she was in the 11th grade. While her family didn’t have a garden, a farmer came to their home every week selling fresh vegetables. Her mother, who grew up on a farm, would get peas that they would shell and freeze. Her mother had a fondness for cooking southern foods and also made small yeast rolls every day.

Claire met James in Wedowee, and they began dating in high school.

After graduating, Claire attended Montevallo where she received a degree in home economics. After they married and moved to Opelika, she attended Auburn University where she received a degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree.

Claire taught school in Lafayette for four years and then taught kindergarten in Opelika schools, including Carver and Southview for 21 years. James has retired from being a letter carrier in Opelika.

The Watts have three sons and seven grandchildren. Tim and his wife Julie live in Notasulga and have a 2 years son, J.D., named after his two grandfathers, James and David. Brett and Michelle live in Jacksonville, Fla, and have three children, Layla, 11; Aubrey, 9 and Holden, 6. Kevin and Carrie reside in Opelika and have three sons, Carter, 9; Miles, 7 and John, 3 and a half.

Claire enjoys cooking and is organized. She keeps a list when they run low on anything to avoid extra trips to the grocery store since they live in the country.

“Having a degree in home economics in no way prepares one for country living or cooking,” says Claire. “I was constantly amazed at the country life of my in-laws. I grew up shelling beans and peas and freezing and canning, but country life is composed of far more.

“As a newly wed attending graduate school in Auburn,” she remembers, “we were on a strict budget that allowed little meat. One Sunday after visiting my in-laws in rural Randolph County, we were offered a frozen rooster. They were poultry farmers and specialized in laying hens. A new shipment arrived with a few stray roosters. The roosters had been rounded up, necks rung, defeathered and placed in the freezer.

“We both loved fried chicken, and I found a recipe in an extension cookbook. Unfortunately, no one told me not to fry a rooster. Their meat is stringy and tough to chew. We had to eat it several more times that week. Later, my mother-in-law told me roosters were suited for dumplings and stews.”

Claire admits with a smile that she had a few cooking mishaps, but she learned to be a good cook. The Elegant Zucchini and Tomatoes recipe is a popular dish with family. Along with her vegetable recipes, James will grill vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt.

The Watts have been in a supper group for over 30 years. The group started with progressive dinners, and now takes turns hosting every other month. When entertaining, Claire serves appetizers by their lovely pool area.

From a dozen blueberry bushes, they will pick between 30 and 50 gallons a year. The blueberries are easy to freeze. After they are picked, she leaves them on the counter for a day to sweeten. Then, they are placed in zip-lock bags and frozen. They are washed when ready to use.

Claire is sharing her mother’s coffee cake recipe with blueberries. The original recipe called for raisins, but she substituted blueberries, which works better.

“I enjoyed teaching,” says Claire. “It was what I wanted to do, and it was fun. Now I enjoy reading, doing things with the grandchildren and working in the garden. I feel blessed.”

Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Sautéed Green Beans
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup Vidalia onion
1/3 cup diced bell peppers
2 lbs. fresh green beans, whole
Soy sauce
Heat olive oil in iron skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions and peppers until lightly brown. Add green beans and sauté until lightly brown. Add soy sauce to taste and ¼ cup water. Cover and cook on low for 5-10 minutes.

Marinated Green Beans
2 lbs. fresh green beans, snapped and slightly cooked
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 sweet onion, sliced
Sauce:
1 cup sugar
¾ cup canola oil
¾ cup vinegar
Layer first five ingredients. Heat sugar, oil and vinegar until sugar melts. Let this cool and then pour it over the vegetables. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
Other garden combinations: cucumbers, sweet onions, and peppers, or squash, zucchini, basil, cherry tomatoes, sweet onion, and bell peppers

Grilled Green Beans
2 lbs. fresh green beans, whole
1 sweet onion cut in strips
1 bell pepper, cut in strips
Toss ingredients in 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Place in grilling pan and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt. Grill 5 minutes and stir. Repeat. Grill additional time if needed.

Elegant Zucchini and Tomatoes
2 slices bacon
4 small zucchinis, cut in ½ inch slices
4 small yellow squash, cut in ½ inch slices
½ sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 pinch salt
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
10 fresh basil leaves
ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup crumbled Parmesan
Place bacon in large iron skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Crumble and return to the pan.
Add zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and salt to the bacon. Cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini is tender-crisp. Add tomato wedges, basil and ground black pepper.
Heat until tomatoes are warm. Top with crumbled Parmesan.

Squash Dressing
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stick butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups cooked squash, drained and mashed (broth reserved)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups crumbled cornbread
½ tsp. dry celery seed
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion in butter until onion is tender. In a large bowl combine onion mixture and eggs, mixing well. Add squash, soup, cornbread and seasonings and mix well, adding enough reserved squash broth to moisten well.
Pour into a greased 1 ½ qt. casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Bow Ties with Pesto and Tomatoes
Pesto:
5 big handfuls of basil leaves
¾ cup walnuts
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pasta salad:
1 lb. bowtie pasta
¾ cup pesto (from recipe above)
½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Pesto directions: Place all ingredients in blender and blend until pesto is thick and smooth.
Pasta directions: Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Stir in pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta. Run under cold water just until it stops steaming. Drain water. Dump pasta into serving bowl.
Stir in pesto until pasta is coated. Add tomatoes and feta. Season with salt and pepper.

Zucchini Bread
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup coconut
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Using a mixer stir together first 8 ingredients. Sift remaining ingredients and add slowly to zucchini mixture. Place dough in 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Blueberry Muffins
3 cups self-rising flour
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup canola oil
1 ¼ cups corn flakes (or bran flakes)
2 cups milk
2 cups blueberries
Mix ingredients together and place in lightly oiled muffin tins. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.

Blueberry Cobbler
¼ cup soft butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
¼ cup sugar
Mix butter, ½ cup sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and milk together in 2 qt. casserole dish; smooth out top of dough.
Pour blueberries on top and ½ cup water. Sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Apple/Blueberry Coffee Cake
Combine:
1 stick melted margarine
2 ¼ cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
2 chopped apples (large)
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups blueberries
Place in greased and floured 9×13 inch dish. Mix the following and place on top of the batter:
1 stick melted margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups uncooked old fashioned oatmeal
Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Alabama Apple Wraps
4 apples, peeled, cored and halved
1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
Sauce:
1 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
½ stick margarine
1 tsp. vanilla
Unwrap rolls and separate. Wrap each apple half with a pastry roll. Place in 9 x 11 baking dish.
In small saucepan heat sauce and pour over wrapped apples. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Pear Honey
8 cups (about 3 lbs.) peeled, cored and chopped pears
One 20 oz. can crushed pineapple with syrup
10 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 pkg. Sure Jell
Mix all ingredients and cook until pears and tender and mixture thickens.
Place in sterilized jars and seal while still hot.  Makes about 8 pints.

Sweet and Sour Green Beans
28 oz. Italian green beans
Chopped onion
Bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
Sauce:
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. bacon fat
Layer beans with onion and bacon ; repeat layers. Pour slightly heated sauce over beans. Cover and bake in a preheated 325 degrees oven for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve.

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