Cindy House makes gazpacho
It would have been easier for Cindy House's family just to buy canned or frozen corn from the Jolly Green Giant.
Instead, every summer when Cindy was growing up her family would buy fresh ears from the Belvidere-based Green Giant plant and prepare for a long, hot "corn day" in August, processing golden kernels for freezing.
"I remember being a sticky mess, covered with corn stuff," says Cindy, an Arlington Heights resident and mother of three, ages 20 to 27.
Cindy, her three siblings, mother and grandmother husked the ears, briefly dunked them in big kettles of boiling water, chilled them in ice water and sliced the kernels into plastic tubs.
"I was the oldest, so I did the cutting," she says.
The family pitched in together again when it was time to process the green beans and cherries they grew on their 4½-acre property just outside Rockford.
Those experiences left a lasting impression.
"I came away with the knowledge of what it takes to get food from the seed to the plate," Cindy says.
Unpredictable weather could mean the difference between a bumper crop and a poor harvest.
"I was very grateful we didn't have to live on what we grew."
Cindy and her siblings all routinely helped their mother in the kitchen, too, peeling potatoes, stirring pots and baking cookies. She grew up to be a seasoned, all-around cook and baker, willing to tackle the tough stuff that most people don't attempt anymore, like baking bread and pies, freezing fresh fruits and vegetables for winter and cooking meals made mostly from scratch.
The tougher the project, the more pride in the results, says Cindy, who calls pies and breads "a little like a work of art."
"The people you're serving will stop and take notice," she says. "Part of the joy of cooking is realizing you can make something that requires skill and practice."
Cindy credits her mother with teaching her "to do things right - so the end product is something you can be proud of."
Cindy harvests a lot of pride from her garden, too. With a much smaller, "sun-challenged" property than her parents', Cindy grows currants for her favorite jelly. Her enthusiasm for the little berries may convince you to give them a try.
They are hardy, unobtrusive and easy to grow, she says. Birds and bugs ignore them and they all ripen at the same time. You don't have to seed them or remove the stems and you don't need pectin to thicken the jelly; currants have that already.
Aside from berries she grows tomatoes, chives and basil for her gazpacho, and Swiss chard, green beans and summer squash for a vegetable-packed minestrone.
Cooking with homegrown produce improves flavor and nutrition and it's a joy, she says.
"When I harvest food I've grown myself, and within an hour or less place it on the table ready to eat, I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from that," she says.