Well, we are back aboard after our Spring and Summer hiatus. We moved from the New Jersey Shore to Upstate New York, and while we have a long way to go to settle in and get on with our plans, the computers are set up, and my cookbooks are here.
I was going to do a column about roadside fruit and vegetable stands this month, but something happened, and I have changed my plans.
I want to tell you about a lovely lady who was our next door neighbor at the Shore, for all the years that I lived there. She had lived there since my mother was eight years old, before that. Her name was Juanita Renz.
When I was first adopted, and scared of everyone, and people kept coming to visit, and according to my new mom, to get a look at me, our next door neighbor was among them, but her visit was different. She knew about scared little kids, having five children of her own, all grown up, and none of them scared, and some of them with children of their own.
She hoisted me onto her lap, and said, "Very nice. You're just right for this seat." I loved her from that minute. She was small and pretty, with loving eyes, and a soft voice with a Southern accent. To me, with my harsh Northern accent and my speech impediment, the lady's way of talking was strange. Mom said that was because 'Nita grew up in Georgia. I liked the gentle way that she talked, and she always had time to talk to me, over the years. She was helpful and generous, and brought us good stuff from her garden every year, ('Nita could grow Jersey tomatoes as big as a baby's head) and frequently made me a special chocolate cake, knowing my weakness for chocolate. My grandmother always said that 'Nita was the best neighbor on the entire street.
About this time last year, Mom's aunt called us on the phone, and said that she had heard that 'Nita was sick. We had seen her in her garden, and weren't sure. We tried to tactfully investigate, and soon found out that it was true. 'Nita, our dear little neighbor, 'Nita, had cancer, and it had spread. We were heart sore, for her, for her family, and yes, for our own selfish selves.
Over the course of our moving, we have made many trips back and forth to the Shore, and in mid-July, when we returned, the house next door to us was dark.
Mom said, "She's either back in the hospital, or she's gone." Mom had e-mail waiting from 'Nita's best friend, and the message was short and painful. "Juanita went to Heaven on July 11. The hurt is very deep."
My eyes are wet as I remember. All the years of kindness, all the helping, and her just being there.
I want to pay a tribute to this sweet little Southern expatriate, and I will do so with some recipes for peaches, another sweet product of Georgia... just like 'Nita.
1 cup light cream, sweetened to taste and flavored with nutmeg
Sift flour into bowl with baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon sugar. With a pastry blender cut in shortening until fine. Add milk to make a soft dough. Combine peaches, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and butter in casserole. Pat out shortcake dough to fit top. Bake in preheated hot oven (450F) for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate, (350F) and bake for 25 minutes more, or until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with nutmeg-flavored cream.