Foods That Remind Us of Childhood Summers in the South
The happiest parts of carefree summers for kids in the South is plenty of time outdoors. They tumble out the door in the morning, slathered in sunscreen, and often don't come back in until lunch time, if not dinnertime. They might be headed to the backyard, playground, park, or the particular delight of a week away to visit a favorite family member, what some of us call Grandparent Camp. Other days are spent splashing in a creek or water's edge, dangling bait off the edge of a wooden dock, or swimming in the ocean or pool. Bring on the water balloons, pool noodles, water wings.
It takes a lot of good meals and a steady supply of snacks to fuel all that fun, preferably foods that are meant to be eaten, and perhaps cooked outside. Meals cooked over campfires or backyard fire pit? Food on a stick? Count us in.
Here are a few of the favorites.
Whether store-bought or homemade in little paper cups (if not one of those snazzy molds), there’s nothing like a fruity or creamy frozen confection to cool and refresh us. Popsicles, to name one, were invented in 1923, so we’re coming up on a century of enjoyment, and tell-tale stained lips and tongues. If we get to ride our scooters or bikes to the corner store or snack bar to pick out the one we want most, all the better.
Frozen Candy Bars
Our favorite candy bars taste all the sweeter in the summer after time in the freezer. An expert might say that chocolate shouldn’t be served stone cold, but have those experts ever tasted a frozen Snickers? Do we want one big bar or a handful of fun size? Yes, please.
Cold Fried Chicken
There might be no other chicken dish that tastes equally delicious whether served hot or cold. Some people prefer it cold, especially in summer as part of a brimming picnic plate. The legs, often called drumsticks, were the part reserved for children. It’s food with a built-in handle, no forks needed.
Sure, it’s tidier to buy cups of cubed melon, but that cannot compare to the juicy, drippy, delicious fun of digging into a fresh wedge hewn from an icy cold melon on a hot summer day. Seeds aren’t a problem. Kids can deal with them, and perhaps fling them on their siblings – a bonus. (Some people swear that the old-timey melons with seeds always taste better, and that a sprinkle of salt makes them sweeter.) A watermelon from the fridge will do, but we all know there is no more refreshing watermelon than one that’s chilled in a springhouse or tub of ice water.
Sandwiches and Hand Pies
Not just any old sandwiches, but those made in a sandwich iron over a fire. These are also known as pie irons. Families who built a lot of campfires (and some camp counselors and scout leaders) often had these, and they’re still easy to find in camping supply stores and small town general stores. They were hinged metal boxes that enclosed one or two sandwiches (with sweet or savory filling), mounted on a long handle that let us hold them over the embers to toast or bake. The cooking method might not pass muster compared to something baked in an oven or toasted in a skillet indoors, but they were a feast when we got to make our own and eat them fireside with a little smoke in our eyes. Pride and novelty can outweigh lots of flaws when it comes to kids cooking over a campfire.
They aren’t strictly Southern, but we sure do love them. We’re particular about them too, from the toppings to the best hometown places to buy them. But for kids, no hot dog is tastier than one poked onto the end of a clean stick or wire skewer and roasted over a fire. Bonus points to families who stuff the hotdogs with cheese and wrap them in bacon. Those smoky, porky charred edges are why some of us grew up to think the burnt ends in a plate of barbecue are the prize bits.
Ice Cream Floats
Scoops of ice cream in a glass of fizzy soda, often root beer, never go out of style. Nothing else tastes like it, especially those foamy, icy, milky bits that cling to the inside of the tall glass and need to be scraped loose with a straw. Some people fancied up their floats with chocolate syrup and sprinkles and such, but they really need only two ingredients, which means that any backyard can be the perfect ice cream parlor. Speaking of ice cream...
Homemade Ice Cream
Making and eating homemade ice cream is always a party, especially when made with fruit we gathered or picked ourselves. (Homemade peach ice cream might be the highest calling for Southern peaches so ripe and fragrant that they perfume the balmy air.) And preferably made in an old-fashioned hand-cranked churn with rock salt. The little ones get the first, easy turns (because they want to help), with the grownups taking over when the process needs more elbow grease. Sure, it’s easier to plug in something that does the work in a fraction of the time, but that can’t compare to ice cream that’s a reward for our efforts. Homemade ice cream can sometimes turn out a bit icy or runny. NBD. No store-bought ice cream hits the spot on a sticky summer night like homemade, hopefully eaten by the flickering light of lightnin’ bugs temporarily housed in a glass jar with a metal lid with air holes poked in it.
Foil Packet Dinners
Yet another in the pantheon of classic campfire food is the foil packet dinner. They’re simple, little more than ground meat or a chicken breast and a few token vegetables, wrapped up tightly and placed on a grill grate or directly into the embers. It’s a meal that might not make the grade if served indoors, but everything tastes better outdoors, especially if we made it ourselves. Once again, pride and summer nights are special sauces.
Jelly Biscuits on a Stick
This time we’re combining clean sticks and canned biscuits for our cavalcade of fireside cooking. This one makes a great breakfast, although it can also serve as dessert. (But, really, that’s what s’mores are for. Yes s’mores are the lucky bonus 13th thing on the list. You know how to make them, but have you tried replacing the square of Hershey Bar with a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup?) But back to the biscuits. All you need are some clean long sticks about an inch in diameter. Gently stretch and wrap a piece of canned biscuit dough around the bottom 3 or 4 inches of the stick, making sure the end is covered, to make a biscuit cup. Toast in the fire until firm. They’ll still be a bit doughy on the inside, but that’s okay. Slip it off the stick and fill the center with jelly.
These go by various names and there are all sorts of ways to make them, but the idea is to make individual pudding parfaits topped with crushed Oreos (the dirt) and garnished with gummy worms coming out of this dirt (the wow factor). What child doesn’t enjoy individual cups of something that doesn’t have to be shared, especially one that looks like garden dirt complete with wriggly, squiggly candy that will make the grownups squirm?
Lo, even in this era of juice boxes and pouches, there is charm in a paper cup of beverage made by stirring powder into tap water. Think instant lemonade and Kool-Aid, where we describe our favorite flavor by its color, replying red, purple, or blue instead of cherry, grape, or whatever that is. These drinks taste best when everyone gets to stir some. When sold from a sidewalk stand (the original pop up), they can turn a tidy (or at least tiny) profit, perhaps enough to go to the store and buy a popsicle, or the treat that delights us. (See number 1.)