The 10 rules of cooking in summer

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comMay 21, 2013 

Ah, summer. You almost had me fooled.

That long, cool spring lulled me into almost forgetting what summer is really like. Then I planned a weekend of testing grilling recipes and ended up huddled against afternoon showers under a beach umbrella clamped to the grill.

The next night, I went to an outdoor wine tasting in the early evening and forgot to pack a folding fan to fight the humidity. By the time I left, my makeup was dripping like the last Popsicle at a church camp picnic.

Ah, summer. We love you so. But before you drop your bags and settle in to stay, let’s go over 10 things I know about cooking in Southern heat.

1. The fresher it is, the faster it cooks. And you’ll need to do less to it to make it taste good. This is our salvation when it’s too hot to consider spending more than 15 minutes in the kitchen.

2. Don’t count your tomato blossoms in May. Between bugs, hailstorms and blossom-end rot, it ain’t a tomato until it’s on your sandwich.

3. No peach is worth eating before the Fourth of July. Same goes for watermelon.

4. If it doesn’t smell like a cantaloupe, it won’t taste like a cantaloupe. Someone asked me recently why a cantaloupe she bought a few weeks ago had no taste. Simple answer: Because it was April. That cantaloupe probably came from somewhere in South America. See rule No. 3: Wait until it’s in season.

5. You will never be able to eat that much zucchini. Sorry, but before you plant it, you should make peace with that.

6. You only need to know one drink order before cider season: Ice tea. Even adding the d to “iced” is too much trouble when it’s hot.

7. You can’t have enough mint. Mint syrup for your ice tea, mojitos and juleps. Mint tossed with sweet peas. Mint in spring rolls. Mint in lemonade. Mint grows so fast around here, it threatens kudzu for supremacy. There is only one defense: Eat it.

8. The more it stains, the more likely it is to have a broken cap. I’m talking to you, mustard at the ballpark.

9. Always keep a cooler in the car. You never know when you’ll see a shrimp truck or a promising roadside stand.

10. If you’re planning an outdoor meal anytime between June and October, remember this: Summer weather in the South is like a crazy girlfriend. Take it for granted and it will turn on you.

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