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Lauren Chapin on family and food

Here are excerpts from two of the “Cream of the Crop” columns that earned Lauren Chapin a nomination for the James Beard award in 2005.“Sweet Strawberry Memories”

Every summer my family and I went to my grandmother’s farm near Lamar, Mo.

The soil was studded with flint rocks and a creek trickled across a dirt road in the back fields. Honeysuckle vines covered the dome of her root cellar while a tangle of pastel-colored rose moss encircled it. It was a riotous display of color and honeyed aroma.

But as much as I remember those sights and smells, a strawberry patch always reminds me of my grandmother.

We’d eat fresh strawberries, which we kids helped pick, with every meal. We learned to stay on the straw-lined paths between the rows and gingerly lean across the mounds to search out ripe berries buried beneath the sea of greenery.

We’d eat as many as we picked. Occasionally we made bad choices, accidentally popping a rheumy one in our mouths. The only remedy for that gnarly, moldy taste was a spectacularly juicy one, preferably one warm from the sun.”“Reaping Rewards from the Sweetest Season”

Like planting potatoes in the spring and digging them up in the fall, harvesting summer’s sweet corn crop was a family affair.

Although Dad planted, hoed and picked the corn, the four of us kids shucked it. He hauled in bushel gunnysacks of the stuff on the hottest, stickiest days. We groaned about the messy job we were marshaled to do, but the sooner we shut up the better.

We climbed into the bed of the 1964 sky-blue Ford pick-up, and he drove us out to the middle of the pasture. Our Black Angus and granddad’s Herefords lumbered toward us and bumped against the truck and each other, impatiently waiting for the sweet husks. They flicked away the flies and horseflies with their tails; invariably one of us got bitten or, worse still, slimed when one of the cows sneezed.

We sweated in the July heat and bickered about who wasn’t shucking fast enough, usually my youngest sister.

Somebody always smooshed a fat corn worm. The creepiest part was peeling back the husks, not knowing how many worms were nestled just between the layers. The toughest part of the job was breaking off the green cob at the base of the corn with our hands.

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