Summer Food: Gin, Blossoms, Catching Crawdads

Gin and tonic i i

For Robert Pegel of Decatur, Ga., summer means gin and tonics with his outspoken Aunt Hilda at her New England cottage. iStockphoto hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto
Gin and tonic

For Robert Pegel of Decatur, Ga., summer means gin and tonics with his outspoken Aunt Hilda at her New England cottage.

iStockphoto
Squash blossoms i i

Erica Campanella of Hoboken, N.J., loves squash blossoms — and the story of how her grandfather was able to get some from a very nice neighbor one summer in the 1950s. iStockphoto hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto
Squash blossoms

Erica Campanella of Hoboken, N.J., loves squash blossoms — and the story of how her grandfather was able to get some from a very nice neighbor one summer in the 1950s.

iStockphoto

Any conversation about food and summer is incomplete without family stories. It's a recurring theme among listeners' tales about the edibles that mean summer to them.

Robert Pegel of Decatur, Ga., recalls the taste of gin and tonic — and how it takes him back to cocktail time at his Aunt Hilda's summer cottage in New England.

"The conversation is always lively," Pegel says. "Aunt Hilda, true to her Vermont roots, speaks her mind. The rest of us don't need to be encouraged, although the gin and tonics may enhance the flow of conversation. The tinking of ice cubes in our glasses marks the rhythm of our talk."

Aunt Hilda died at the age of 93 some months ago, and the family held a memorial service for her this summer. Then, they all went back to the cottage to enjoy the drink that defined the season for Aunt Hilda.

Squash blossoms are at the heart of Erica Campanella's family lore. The resident of Hoboken, N.J., grew up in a predominantly Italian area of North Providence, R.I., where the highly perishable blossoms are a favorite summer delicacy. Campanella loves them breaded in flour and fried in olive oil.

She says that back in the 1950s, her grandfather went to a friend's mother's house in pursuit of those fleeting yellow flowers. A woman who didn't speak English opened the door; Campanella's grandfather asked, in broken Italian, whether she had any squash flowers. The woman thought for a moment, stepped back into the house and returned with a large basketful.

The next day, her grandfather thanked his friend for his mother's generosity, adding that he didn't know she only spoke Italian.

"She speaks English," the friend replied, surprised.

"It speaks volumes about the Italian population in Rhode Island that my grandfather went to the wrong house but still managed to find a generous little Italian mother with squash flowers — just not the one he expected," Campanella says.

Sara Hamilton of Flagstaff, Ariz., hasn't had her absolute favorite summer food since she was a kid: crawdads, caught fresh from Oregon's South Twin Lake.

What was so great about those crawdads wasn't the taste — "although they were pretty good," Hamilton remembers. The best part was catching the crawdads with her sisters after dark.

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