Victoria's Vegetarian Victuals

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.

Peach Cobbler

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Sugar, about 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 cups (1 pound, 13 oz. can) sliced peaches
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 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.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: about 55 minutes

Peach Souffle

  • 1 can (1 lb) sliced peaches
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • Whipped cream

Drain peaches, reserving syrup. Dice peaches and put in 2-quart souffle dish. Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup of sugar. Melt butter or margarine, and blend in flour and salt. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring until thickened. Pour mixture over egg yolks. Mix well and cool. Beat egg whites until stiff; gradually beat in remaining sugar. Fold into egg yolk mixture. Add vanilla and lemon rind. Pour onto peaches in souffle dish. Bake in pre-heated slow oven (325F) for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with reserved syrup and whipped cream.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: about 50 minutes

Lattice Crust Peach Pie

  • 4 cups thinly sliced peaches
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pastry for 2-crust, 9-inch pie, unbaked
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Combine peaches, sugar, tapioca, and salt. Turn into a 9-inch pie plate lined with pastry rolled 1/8 inch thick. Dot with butter or margarine. Roll remaining pastry into a circle, 1/8 inch thick. Cut into strips 1/2 inch wide. Arrange over pie in lattice fashion. Trim, turn under, and flute edge. Bake in pre-heated hot oven (425F) for 40 minutes, or until browned over the top.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: about an hour

Peach Ripple Ice Cream

  • 3 or 4 medium fresh peaches
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Peel peaches and put through food mill, whirl in blender, or mash very fine. Mix with lemon juice and sugar, and chill for 30 minutes. Soften ice cream slightly. Whip cream until stiff, and stir in flavoring. Quickly mix peaches, whipped cream, and soft ice cream, and put back into freezer until firm.

  • Yields: 1 quart
  • Preparation Time: about 45 minutes

Spiced Peach and Blueberry Jam

  • 4 lbs fresh peaches
  • 1 quart fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice

Peel and pit the peaches. Force through the coarse blade of food chopper. Wash and pick over berries. Combine with peaches in kettle, add water, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar and salt. Tie spices in a cheesecloth bag and add. Bring to a boil slowly, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly for ten minutes, or until fruit is clear. Remove spice bag. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, and seal.

  • Yields: Six 8-oz jars
  • Preparation Time: about an hour

Peach Crumb Pudding

  • 18 fresh peaches
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine

Reserve 1 peach for garnishing. Peel peaches, cut into quarters, and drop into mixture of 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour. Turn into baking dish (10 x 6 x 2 inches). Mix remaining sugar and flour; cut in butter or margarine to crumb consistency. Sprinkle crumbs over peaches. Bake in pre-heated moderate oven (375F) for 1 hour, or until peaches are tender and crumbs are brown. Garnish top as desired with fresh peach.

  • Yields: 8 to 10 servings
  • Preparation Time: About an hour and 20 minutes