NEBRASKAland July 2018

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 33 of 59

34 NEBRASKAland • JULY 2018 S ummer gives full credence to Nebraska's state slogan "the good life." Long days of sunshine and an explosion of green are proof that muddling through winter was worth it. Wild plums adorn field edges, summer breezes stir the corn into a swaying dance and sun tea steeps on porches across the state. At no other time do the flavors of Nebraska present themselves more readily, and nowhere are they more abundant than a Nebraska garden. These gardens are magical places and the dishes of the Nebraska table reflect their bounty. Nebraska has a long-standing gardening heritage. Seed catalogs from Lincoln dating back to the 1880s advertise radishes, peas and "early red perfection" tomatoes. Nebraska gardeners persevered through the Dust Bowl, famines and stock market crashes. During World War II, "Victory Gardens" grew bumper crops for the war effort, and gardeners from Omaha to Scottsbluff helped ease the food shortage. Today, many Nebraskans continue this tradition, planting the same varieties enjoyed throughout the state for more than a century. Across Nebraska, gardeners work to bring their harvest to the table. They prepare the soil, pluck stubborn weeds and nurture tender green shoots into delicious fruits and vegetables. While each gardener has their own reason for cultivating plant life – pleasure, nourishment, mental calm – the results are nearly the same: fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes, succulently ripe berries, crisp and tender asparagus. In the southeastern corner of the state, Jane Sparks tends her garden under the hot summer sun. Protected by the shade of her wide straw hat, she plucks small, brilliantly red strawberries and drops them into her basket. A lifelong Nebraskan, Jane has been gardening for more than 70 years. Full disclosure, she is also my grandmother, and the strawberries she is picking are the taste of summer I grew up with. Back in her kitchen, she sprinkles a scant pinch of sugar over the just-picked berries and pours a generous amount of table cream over the top. Between bites, I ask how long she has been gardening and she smiles. "As long as I can remember," she says with a laugh. As you might have guessed, Jane is also an excellent cook, and the fruits and vegetables from her garden are used to their full potential. The things she and my grandfather can't eat immediately are frozen or canned for use throughout the year. Opening a jar of her home- canned peaches in winter is a small reprieve from the cold and snow – she seems to can the essence of summer in each jar along with the peaches. Her cellar is a library of mason jars containing the tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, beets, pears, peaches, apples, rhubarb and a list of other produce too long to mention that she grows in her garden. Jane and my grandfather, Stanley, moved to a farm near Cedar Creek in Cass County from Big Springs in 1953. Their new home had an orchard with 16 fruit trees, and it wasn't long before they put in a large garden. "I appreciated the longer growing season," she says, recalling their first few seasons at the new home. "I remember flipping through seed catalogs and seeing all the new things I could plant." At its height, her garden comprised a quarter acre with an additional stand of sweet corn and a strawberry patch larger than the entire gardens of most people. One year, when By Ryan Sparks Part 2 – Summer The Nebraska Table PHOTO BY RYAN SPARKS

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