The phrase Dog Days or the dog days of summer conjures up the hottest, most sultry days of summer. They are a phenomenon of the Northern Hemisphere, where they usually fall between July and early September, but the actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. I’m not sure what the equivalent is over here in England, or even if they have one, but I know that as a child they were the hottest, most boring days of our summer holidays ...
I can remember the weather being very hot, sticky and humid, and feeling so very lazy during hot August days as a child. All the excitement of early summer days was gone, and the novelty of our summer vacation from school was largely wearing off. We’d lay around the garden, sprawled out and trying to leach some of the coolness from the grass in the shade, listening to the humming of the electrical wires and cicadas in the trees, the heat and humidity sapping all our energy and impetus. It was generally too hot by then to be bothered overly much by mosquitoes or black flies ... they’d mostly have died off, and we’d enjoy the respite, knowing all too well that they’d be back, come September.
Those were the days when, if we were really lucky, my mom and dad would take us off to the beach on a weekend afternoon, where we’d run through the sand, it’s warmth squishing up between our toes, and paddle along the water’s edge. My mother never went in the water. She’d always sit atop a towel on the sand and soak up the sun, a big sunhat on her head and her eyes shaded by sunglasses. We always got sunburnt. I cannot ever recall using sunscreen in them there days, although I do know they had it because I can remember clearly seeing the Coppertone advertisements with the little girl on them. She was wearing a pair of pretty bottoms and a dog was pulling them down and you could clearly see that her bottie was white and un-tanned, in comparison to the rest of her. Those were the days before skin cancer worries. We used to be as brown as nuts by the end of the summer.
The highlight of our day at the beach would always be the ice cream cone that we were treated to at the end of the day, before we left to go home. I can remember standing there in my little plaid skort (that was a combinationshort/skirt thing) and waiting patiently (or as patient as I could do) while my mother handed them out to us, one at a time. I always chose the rainbow flavour. It tasted oddly fruity, but not any fruit you could readily discern, and it was a combination of every colour of the rainbow. The race would then be on to try to lick and eat the ice cream before it melted and ran down your arms. It was no fun driving home in the car with sticky arms!
August was always the month of my birth as well. I can remember having a few birthday parties, but most kids were away on holidays then, and so there were never an awful lot of children there, or at least not as many as I dreamed of having. My mother has old black and white photos of us all at different times, standing in the back garden around our swing set, and others of us all around the dining table. It seemed we were all legs and gangly arms. There were usually hot dogs or dainty tea sandwiches to eat, as well as soda pop, cake and ice cream. I remember one year she made clowns out of the ice cream … the cone being the clown hats , their faces fashioned out of liquorice whips and round hard candies. I thought they were really special and magical, and … they were!
Nothing tasted better or more refreshing than ice cold cool-aid from the refrigerator on a hot summers day. We used to have metal tumblers that came in various metallic colours and shades. My favourite was the pink one and I swear to this day that cool-aid tasted much better in them than in any other glass, and it seemed cooler and more refreshing as well. Cool-aid was a summer treat we never got at any other time of the year, and my favourite flavour was the green lime flavour, although cherry was pretty good too. All artificial flavours and colours … it’s a wonder we weren’t all jumping through the roof!!! (or maybe we were!)
The milk man used to carry Popsicles in his truck and I can remember buying them for 4 cents. I loved the white ones. They tasted vaguely of vanilla and lemon. I can remember trying really hard to carefully break them apart in the middle, into two equal sticks. There was a definite technique to it, one that I never managed, as I always ended up with one half being shaped like an upside down L and the other a short stub… You could never eat them faster than they melted. There were prizes printed on the wrappers that you could win by saving them up. I always tried, but never quite managed to get enough to send away for anything andin fact,to this day, I don’t know of any of my friends that did!
August also meant corn on the cob. That was something we longingly looked forward to, the whole rest of the year ... corn season. Farmers would set their wagons up on country road corners, their children coerced into spending the first few weeks of their August days out in the hot sun flogging it to all us townies that would flock out to them in huge crowds, buying dozen after dozen of the delicious golden ears. It was always a farmer’s dozen too, which meant thirteen ears. The corn was always wonderful, fresh picked just that morning … My mom would set us to work when we got back home, in the garden at the picnic table shucking what seemed like dozens and dozens of ears. I loved feeling the silkiness of the golden tassels at the end of the cob and the sound that the husks made when you peeled them back, a sort of crackling sound that you never heard anywhere else. In the meantime my mother would be heating the water on the stove, ready to plunge the naked cobs into as soon as we brought them back in to the house.
We’d sit around the table in eager anticipation, and it would not be long before the air would be filled with the sweet aroma of boiling corn. That is all we’d have for supper on those hot summer nights, cob after cob of golden corn, covered in lashings of cold butter and oodles of salt. It was a race to see who could eat the most cobs and top the winner of the year before, our hands and faces all buttery and salty and full of corny goodness, the ends of the cobs burning our fingers in our eagerness to get stuck in … You could get fancy corn thingies that you could stick into the ends that you could hold on to, but we never bothered. They never quite worked the way they should have anyways! There was a proper way to eat corn … we’d make our way down the ears like a platen making it’s way across a typewriter bed, the only thing missing … the sound of the bell as we got to the end of the cob and hit the carriage return, starting back at the beginning … We’d eat until our bellies could hold no more and our teeth were stuck full of the little pieces of silk that got left behind, no matter how hard our fingers had tried to peel them away … if you pressed your lip up to your nose it would smell all buttery and slightly sickly, the smell of hot summer corn days …
I was thinking about all of this last night when I made our supper after work. The sweet corn over here isnot nearly as good as the sweet corn in North America, and I know that, but still, each year when I see it in the grocery store I relent and buy a few ears, hoping that it will magically have transformed itself into the golden sweet ears of my childhood. Of course it never has, but we enjoy it anyways, although now we end up having to cut the kernels off the cobs to eat it and our faces are not quite as buttery when we are done …
*Perfect Corn on the Cob with Lime Basil Butter*
I love sweet corn and fresh picked sweet corn on the cob is the perfect way to eat it. Accompanied with this delicious butter there is no finer meal. The tang of lime along with the peppery spice of the basil go perfectly with the sweet crunch of the corn, not to mention the underlying heat of fresh garlic. This recipe is a real winner in my books!
8 ears of sweet corn
For the Butter:
¼ cup of basil leaves, lightly packed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup butter
1 TBS fresh lime juice (roughly the juice of one small lime)
1 tsp sea salt
Pinch of sugar
First make the butter. Chop the basil fairly finely and crush the garlic. Cream the butter until quite fluffy and then cream in the basil, garlic, salt, sugar and the lime juice until it is quite smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate while you boil the corn.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding a pinch of sugar to the water. Remove the husks, silk and end from each ear of corn. Rinse in cold water and then drop the ears into the boiling water, making sure they are completely covered by the water. (Don’t salt the water as it makes the corn tough) Bring the water back to the boil. Immediately cover the kettle and turn out the heat. Let the corn stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well and serve immediately with the chilled Basil butter. Delicious!
(Sorry for all the wonky posts. I am trying to put these in ahead of time so that you won't miss me too much while I am away, and blogger is not co-operating, not with the text, or the pictures or anything . . . but don't worry, I'll be home real soon now!)