"The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.” H.A. Jacobs
After a long, dreary winter, we welcome the approach of a new season … spring is almost here! Spring feels as if something new and better is on the horizon as it begins to slip quietly into view. The pretty flowers on the redbud trees’ limbs and the fluffy white blooms on dogwoods and Bradford pears signal its approach each year. We all need our souls revived, as Ms. Jacobs said in the quote above, and springtime gives us that chance.
After a winter of gray and brown, of sickness and gloomy weather, the change of seasons is a much-needed respite. It’s that need which sends us to garden centers to look longingly at flowers and herbs in early March, aching to feel our fingers in the dirt again, planting something that will brighten at least one little corner of the world with bright color and fresh flavor. We need spring.
Spring in Northwest Florida is an especially lovely time. The birds chirp so sweetly, and the flowers blooming in yards around the area seem more perfect, more fragrant than anywhere else. It brings to mind the pastel-colored dresses that mom made for Sherrin and me when we were little girls. Each year at Easter she would outfit us with some new tulip-hued concoction with flow-y skirts and rick-rack or silky ribbons along the waist.
But long before Easter and the accompanying dresses came along, mom began the process of planting flowers in those same pretty, pastel hues. She had pansies in late winter, deep velvet-y purple and bright yellow. In early spring, she would pull those out and replace them with happy pink and lavender petunias. Mom, like her own parents, had a green thumb. She grew ferns, roses, camellias and day lilies in abundance in the yard and on the porch. I suppose I inherited my love of planting them from her. I begin looking at seed catalogs in the winter, and get excited at the prospect of growing different herbs to cook with all summer long, as well as zinnias to fill my vases inside the house.
This year will be an important rebuilding year for Northwest Florida gardeners. The hurricane damaged or destroyed flower beds, shrubs and trees in many yards. That makes me sad, but on a positive note, it gives us a chance for a new beginning in our landscape. What will you plant this year to show that you intend to carry on bringing beauty and joy back into your corner of the world? What did you not have before that you’d like to try to grow now?
I remember mom planting a camellia bush in our yard many years ago; it was so tiny that my little sister and I could jump right over it as we ran around the yard. Now it is a huge bush, at least 7-feet tall. It survived the hurricane, thankfully, and still appears healthy. It has the most beautiful rose-pink blooms, and I highly recommend that you look into planting one, too, if you need some landscape plants. They’re a beautiful traditional Southern flower and they bloom throughout the cool season of winter and early spring. Even when they’re not blooming, they have shiny evergreen leaves that add interest to your yard.
You can also plan to grow your own herbs and lettuces, tomatoes and peppers. If you can’t plant them in the ground due to physical limitations, try making a raised bed, perhaps using a galvanized metal trough from the farm supply store. Herbs and lettuces do very well in container gardens.
If you decide to grow some beautiful flowers or delicious herbs, I guarantee you it will help your outlook. You may feel a tiny spark of spring begin to replace the winter that has set in for so long in your soul. Give yourself that chance, and make Northwest Florida a more happy, beautiful place while you do it!
"Spring will come and so will happiness. Hold on. Life will get warmer.” - Anita Krizzan
Here are a few delicious salad recipes that you can enjoy this spring with items from your own garden or from the local farmers market or grocery store:
Creamy broccoli salad with bacon and tomatoes
6 cups broccoli florets
1/4 cup chopped purple onion
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
crumbled cooked bacon
sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Combine mayo, sugar and vinegar. Pour over broccoli florets and onion. Mix, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving, add halved tomatoes, crumbled bacon, and cheese. Stir to combine. Enjoy!
My friend David Wallace shared this one with me:
Fiesta corn salad
2 (15oz) cans of whole kernel corn
2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
In a mixing bowl, add well drained cans of corn, cheese, the mayo, and the vegetables (peppers and onions).
Thoroughly chill and hold until ready to serve. When ready to serve, add a 10 oz bag of coarsely crushed chili cheese corn chips, which sounds unusual, but trust me, it’s amazing.
Grilled peach salad with fresh mozzarella and bacon
2-3 cups fresh organic mixed greens (would be fine with baby spinach, lettuce, or whatever you have)
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 large or two medium fresh peaches, pitted and sliced into 1/2″ slices
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced (the soft, wet mozzarella ball you see in the dairy department or deli)
1 or 2 strips good bacon, fried, drained on paper towels and then crumbled
Wash and dry salad greens thoroughly. Place on salad plate.
Halve peaches, leaving skin on, and place on grill pan for stove top or on your grill in grilling basket or pan. Grill for a minute or so on each side. Peaches don’t need to char, just need to soften and warm all the way through. Remove from grill.
Slice mozzarella and peaches into 1/2″ thick slices.
Make a layer of peaches and mozzarella across the bed of greens, alternating so that the warm peach slices will soften the mozzarella slices.
Scatter the tomatoes over the salad, then sprinkle with all the bacon.
Serve with peach vinaigrette or your favorite dressing
Heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and goat cheese
2 pounds of heirloom grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup torn fresh basil
3 to 4 ounces goat cheese, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar (or substitute balsamic)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon crumbled bacon (optional)
1. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt in a small bowl to make vinaigrette. Set aside.
2. Place tomato halves in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle basil over the tomatoes, then drizzle with the vinaigrette. Toss to coat. If possible, allow to marinate 30 minutes.
3. Top with chunks of cheese and sprinkle with bacon, if using.
Note: If using dried herbs, use 1/3 the amount called for when using fresh. Add slightly more after tasting, if desired.
Enjoy some of these salads to lighten up your springtime menu; if you have a favorite salad of your own, I’d love to hear about it! Send your recipe to Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph”. She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.