Earthworms’ Castings

with Jean Ponzi

Summer Kitchen

My kitchen changes its tune with the climate.

Temperatures rise and foods gets lighter, quicker, needing less preparation. The fruit and vegetable bowls and bins fill and empty and refill rapidly. No beverage container lingers on a pantry shelf for more than a week.

Pots and pans go on vacation while the knives and cutting boards maintain a vigorous workout. Kitchen tools migrate to the veranda, accompanied by glistening glasses, the countertop compost bucket and a colorful cadre of shatterproof bowls.

Food emergencies arise, but a speedy response will avert disaster. Succulent peaches may collapse while simply laying in a bowl on a hot kitchen table. A whirl in the blender with yogurt and ginger saves their sweetness from sad decay in tall, cool goblets.

At work we have a Solar Oven. This simple technology can power a whole village of kitchens, especially in arid parts of the world, where cooking fuel is scarce in continuous summer. One of our colleagues brought in and shared a golden loaf of bread he had baked with sunshine.

My Dad had his own summer kitchen, a metal kettle with legs and a lid, outside the regular kitchen door. With his hot mitt, platter and tongs he grilled the summer suppers of my youth, while Mom sliced up and mixed inside. I did not inherit the Grill Gene, but I’m always happy to contribute some fine fish or sausage to a dinner invitation when friends fire up their coals.

I remember a long-ago summer visit in a lean-to kitchen with a wood stove, attached to the house where my Grandma’s father had cleared a farm out of Minnesota forest on a bend in the St. Louis River, a thousand miles from here. He was an ore miner in the open pits of the Iron Range, north of Lake Superior, and he also worked his land summer nights and weekends. That second job put food on the table, and it refreshed Great-Grampa’s spirit, from his long days toiling underground. In a memory over half a century old, I see a little girl in a sailor dress, puzzled by the extra kitchen outside an unfamiliar house, and fascinated by big-boy cousins who could make a real fire in their Grandma’s funny oven.

Celebrations for best friends born in the midsummer month of Leo require birthday baking, no matter how hot it is. I like to drink a cup of coffee with the 10 o’clock weather on the kitchen TV and then get out the cookbook and cake ingredients. Cranking up the oven in midnight’s relative cool, the heat is balanced by a breeze from the ceiling fan, songs of tree frogs and cicadas, and late-night black and white vintage movies. It’s a multi-media menu in the all-nighter kitchen.

Tofu Salad, my float-trip specialty, is made with kitchen scissors. Black olives, fresh parsley and cherry tomatoes are a snap to snip on a gravel bar. Sprinkle these pieces with garlic granules and mix into mashed tofu with a silver fork. Hand off the bowl with a bag of corn chips and flee the floating kitchen for the paradise of your canoe or – even better – your Fun Noodle.

By the Dog Days of August, the ground around our screen door is golden with leaflets, first poignant heralds of the approaching cool-down season. Almost time for the big pot to return to the stove from its summer home deep in the cabinet, for the first ceremonial soup of autumn. Tomato-lentil will be simmering soon, savory and rich with plenty of pesto, fruit of the final fragrant fling in my summer kitchen.

Jean Ponzi hosts two weekly smorgasbords of Green radio conversation. Tune in Mondays 7-8 p.m. for “Earthworms “ on FM-88 KDHX and Sundays 1-2 p.m. to “Growing Green St. Louis” on the Big 550 KTRS.