This column is adapted from one that originally ran on the last day of school in 2003. Simple dinners are a blessing in the heat of summer and help everyone stay nice and cool through the hot summer nights. Though it tastes delicious, I’ve never quite understood the allure of grilled foods on really hot days. Who wants to add any additional heat to the atmosphere?
The buoyant feeling of the last day of school is a memory we savor forever and that keeps resonating throughout the full bloom of July. Suddenly the heavy yoke is lifted and the freedom of summer stretches like a shaft of sunlight leading to heaven. Kids aren’t the only ones to feel liberated; gone is the tyranny of dinner at a certain time, homework monitoring, baths and punctual bedtimes. Parents, too, breathe a sigh of relief.
Summertime brings on the period of casual meals with menus that are easy to pull together with a minimum of fuss. In our household, no one wants to stop their outdoor activities until it begins to get dark, so dinner is often late and light.
One of the most graceful alfresco dinners that I ever saw served was by a mom with a gaggle of young children at a baseball game. She had a large squat thermos filled with boiling water and hot dogs and pulled them out one at a time with tongs, filling buns bleacher-side, kid by kid. Another thermos with lemonade quenched their thirst and celery and carrot sticks rounded out the meal. Paper cups and napkins — how easy. No one was whining, and it didn’t cost her a fortune at the concession stand.
Backyard gardens yield handfuls of vegetables — leafy kale and chard, zucchini, peas — and a quick vegetable-sauced pasta dinner is easy to put together quickly. By the time it takes pasta water to boil, you can sauté some garlic in olive oil, add two cups of chopped vegetables and slivers of sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers for a dinner that is ready in less than 30 minutes.
Farmers markets are in high gear in central Pennsylvania. and at least one is available almost every day. If not, there’s always Harner Farm, Tait Farm and Way Fruit Farm with varied hours. The Amish stand at Hills Plaza moves a mountain of vegetables and fruits in the summer, open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, acting as an agent for a wider group of growers farther south.
Summertime in our house means sloppy Joe season, named after my mother, Josephine, for her recipe. It’s the perfect item to have on hand for a quick hot sandwich before heading off to a baseball game. My mom always made the dish with ground beef, but we’ve found that we are all happy with a lighter variation made with ground turkey.
Iced tea, brewed in the sun, is another summertime staple. Place 12 Red Rose teabags in a glass gallon jar and allow to steep for a few hours in the sun — or overnight for moon tea. Sweeten to taste and serve with lemon and ice.
“I” is for ice cream, and homemade ice cream is a sure sign that it is summer. When I was growing up my dad always initiated the summer evening project, enlisting the dozen or so kids that played each night in the alley to help turn the crank. Nowadays an electric ice cream maker makes it easy, but it is still a near-miracle, and a fitting end for a long hot day. Happy summer!
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOSEPHINE QUINN’S SLOPPY JOE’S
Makes 8 servings
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium low heat for about an hour. You may need to add a small amount of water if you use ground turkey, and the cooking time will be shorter, about 45 minutes. Stir mixture frequently to break up any lumps. The ground beef version can be placed in a strainer at the end of the cooking time to remove some of the fat. Reheat one or more servings at a time in a microwave and serve on a Kaiser roll or hamburger bun.