Living off the land is one of the pleasures of RVing. Farmer’s markets and fruit and vegetable stands pepper the highways of the United States. Buying food from farmers and growers not only gives us the freshest food, it connects us in a way that buying from a supermarket can never do.
You can be sure that when we’re on the road, my string bag will never be far from my side. From June to October, there’s no telling when I’ll see a crooked homemade sign that reads, “FRESH PICKED CORN,” or one that never fails to stop our caravan: “VINE-RIPE TOMATOES.”
Thank goodness my companion is always ready to brake for fresh produce. He knows that lunch at some tree-shaded roadside spot a couple of hours later will star a BLT or feature a platter of those firm but juicy tomatoes that were covered with morning dew just an hour before we bought them. If we’re lucky enough to find green chilies, the evening meal will consist of big soup bowls of hot pasta covered with a cold fresh salsa we’ve concocted from more of those fresh tomatoes. The combination of hot pasta and cold salsa is wonderful. Add bread from some local bakery, topped with curls of Parmesan cheese and run under the broiler until it’s hot and “nothing could be finah.”
For me, spring and summer are one long feast on the nation’s bounty. In California’s Central Coastal Valley, we’ll pork out on baby artichokes, dipped in a simple sauce of olive oil and chopped garlic; or quickly sautéed stalks of asparagus in our trusty wok and sprinkled with kosher salt, or maybe we’ll do a big stir-fry using snow peas, cabbage and fresh celery bought field-side.
On one trip, dessert was soup bowls full of luscious strawberries. Their fragrance was even sweeter than the lilac bushes surrounding the truck farm where we had picked over two gallons of the sweet berries. No telling how many we ate while picking, but when we tried to pay for them, the smiling teenager who was manning the fruit stand laughed and said, “No way, what we charge includes what you eat while you’re picking.”
The berries were a bargain at three times the price! The thirty minutes we spent in the rows of berries under the warm sun, with the Pacific Ocean like wrinkled blue silk on the horizon, was pure soul time.
During that week, we had a strawberry festival. We enjoyed strawberry shortcake, a strawberry pie, cereal topped with strawberries, strawberries dipped in brown sugar and sour cream, strawberries covered with melted chocolate and (probably best of all) just plain, unadorned strawberries.
I even squirreled away enough of the dark red berries to make two small jars of jam. When these jars are opened this winter, we’ll relive those golden days as we spread the scarlet jam, thick with berries, on morning toast.
Bound for Barbecue
Once we get a hankering for barbecue, there’s just one place to go: Texas, where grilling meat has been elevated to pure science. In Texas, we eat barbecue every day. Everybody knows it takes a long time to cross the Lone Star State, especially when you’re on a barbecue quest. Stopping at every wide spot in the road to sample the wares of a local barbecue stand can be a time-consuming pleasure quest.
After leaving New Mexico and after stashing a stack of blue corn tortillas and Las Cruces chilies in the fridge, we crossed the border into mesquite smoke country. We drove through El Paso and stopped for gas on the other side of the city. After filling the tank, we decided to take a leg-stretching stroll around the humungous truck stop.
Immediately, we smelled something mouth watering. Sniffing the air like bird dogs, we followed the scent. Barbecue? It certainly smelled like it. Beside an RV that started life as a yellow school bus, a man hunkered down beside a homemade smoker engineered from a small barrel. He had set up camp at the edge of a giant parking lot. On the brow of the hill, overlooking the cottonwood trees and farmland of the Rio Grande Valley, he had staked a claim to an overnight parking space that was splendid.
“Hey there,” he greeted us as a German shepherd came forward wagging his tail. We shook hands and told him where we were from. He said he was Fred and his canine companion was William, not Bill, because he was such a noble animal, he deserved a dignified name.
“What are you barbecuing,” I asked? “It smells wonderful.”
He lifted the top of the small setup and the spicy, garlicky aroma almost did us in. He was barbecuing a large roll of bologna. Bologna?
My companion and I were amazed that bologna came in rolls. Like city kids who had never seen a cow and thought milk came from cartons, we thought bologna came in slices. It smelled delicious, but how good could lunchmeat be, even if it was barbecued?
Fred told us that he bought “bologna chunks” whenever he could find them because they were so good smoked. He admitted having “pretty good sources in country grocery stores where there are large German settlements.”
Would we like a sample? Yeah!
Taking a sharp knife, he cut a couple of slices. Grabbing a roll of paper towels, he tore off a section and with the point of his knife, placed the meat on it. We dived into the savory meat that looked like ham. It tasted nothing like the bologna we had eaten. It was wickedly good.
The generous camper moved over to a small Coleman stove where a dark brown sauce simmered in a small dented pot. “Here,” he said, “I want you to try my special barbecue sauce.”
Once more, he cut slices, thicker this time since he knew we liked the meat, and spooned on a little of the rich brown liquid. We ate, hunkered over; sauce running down our chins and through our fingers. It may have been best thing I’ve ever tasted, that bologna in a truck stop parking lot!
It was hard to tear ourselves away from Fred and William, but we had reservations where they were expecting us. We thanked him for our very first taste of barbecue on this trip and for introducing us to smoked bologna.
I hurried back to our motorhome and put six ripe peaches in a sack—peaches we had bought at a roadside stand in New Mexico the day before. After adding four pieces of pound cake, I looked around for a special meat treat for the noble William. I finally came up with a pound of ground round. I wished it had been a filet, two filets, in fact, one for the hospitable Fred, who had fed two strangers on the road, and one for his traveling companion.
As we walked back to their bus with the treats, I thought, “Another priceless memory made along the RV trail.” If there were no other reason to journey through these beloved states of ours than the food and the friendly, generous folks you meet, that would be enough.
God bless America and God bless barbecue and strawberries.
Juddi Morris is an author whose stories have appeared in many magazines and newspapers and whose books include The Harvey Girls: the Women Who Civilized the West, Route 66: The Main Street of America, and At Home with the Presidents.