Pickin#039; Grinnin#039;: Green thumb and hard work makes a garden grow

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Plug Oliver subscribes to the theory that it's better to give than to receive.

As he sits at the edge of his garden watching it grow, Plug is keenly aware of the blessings that come his way through the abundance of God's giving. And, what God gives to him, he gladly shares with others.

"God blesses me with all of this and then I get another blessing by giving it away to elderly people," Plug said. "I'm double blessed.

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Plug- "no one would know me by my real name" - and his mother, I.V. Oliver, live near Petrey at the end of Panther Ridge Road and that's the way he likes it. Nothing's out there to distract him from tilling the soil, tending the garden and gathering the grace.

"There's too much out here for just me and Mama," Plug said, surveying the long, lush green rows. "But if it wasn't but just a little bit, I'd still want to give stuff away. It makes me feel good to know that I can do something for other people."


garden plot - a half acre and more - sports heads of cabbage as big as a No.10 washtub, collards with leaves the size on snowshoes and snap beans that run, run, run.

Then there are turnips, onions, peas, tomatoes, Irish potatoes, corn that's coming along and the okra's coming on.

Everything's growing like weeds except the weeds. There's not one weed to be found from one end of the garden to the other.

"No weeds. No weeds at all."

A grin a county mile wide stretches across Plug's face but he shuffles away the compliment.

"You can't have a garden worth anything if you let the weeds beat you to it," he said. "I work my garden with a tiller but I still have to get the hoe to it. You can't have a garden without a hoe."

But it takes more than a pack of seeds, a hoe and a shower of rain to make a garden grow. And, it takes something extraordinary to make a garden grow like Plugs.'

A green thumb, perhaps?

"Some folks say I've got a green thumb, but I don't," Plug said, looking at his thumb as if to make sure he doesn't. "I just like working a garden. Before I go to work, this is where I am.

As soon as I get in from work, this is where I come.

A garden won't work itself. You got.ve to do it yourself."

The sun was only about shoulder high but Plug had already broken a sweat gathering a few greens "to go."

"It's hot out here but I'm used to it,"he said. "Over where I work, we've got a garden - a real pretty garden. Ever since I was a little biddy boy, I've like a garden."

Liking a garden is one thing, but liking the hard, hot work enough to give away the fruits of one's labor is another.

"That's the best part," Plug said. "I like to eat what comes from the garden, but I'd a whole lot rather see somebody else enjoy it. I give away most of it. Like I said we can't eat that much. My mama freezes and cans what we can eat, but first we give away want anybody needs - or wants."

The "anybody" is, in reality, the elderly members of the community or the sick.

"A lot of folks don't have a garden because they don't know how," Plug said. "A lot of folks aren't able to work a garden because they've gotten too old or their health's not good. Those are the folks that I take stuff to and they're proud to get it. Nothing's as good a stuff that comes fresh from the garden."

Around the Petrey community, Plug Oliver is known for his generosity and his love of people. He goes about the community sharing the fruits of his labor and he never asks a dime in return.

"Yeah, I could get money for my vegetables, but then I wouldn't have the good feeling that I get when I give stuff away," he said. "I'd rather have the good feeling."

In the late afternoon, when the garden is tended, Plug Oliver sits back in his chair at the end of the garden. He turns on the radio and listen to the blues and watches his garden grown as the sun goes down.

Pickled Red Cabbage

Red cabbage, shredded


White distilled vinegar


Pepper, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and celery seed

Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced

Fresh parsley to garnish

Use as many heads of cabbage as you like. Place shredded cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave overnight. Drain all the moisture from the cabbage then leave for several hours at room temperature. Pour enough vinegar over the cabbage to cover, then strain if off into a pan. Add 1 cup of sugar for every gallon of vinegar. Add a good pinch of each of the spices and the celery seed. Boil for 7 to 8 minutes, then pour over the cabbage. Spoon into stoneware jars or glass storage jars and cover. Store in a cool place for several weeks before using. If desired, add a sliced apple for every 2 cups of cabbage just before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Cucumber Cream Salad

1 large cucumber, thinly sliced


1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon vinegar


1 teaspoon chopped dill


Sprigs of dill to garnish

Place cucumber slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for several hours. Rinse well in cold water and pat dry. Place in a bowl. Mix sour cream, vinegar, pepper and dill together and combine with the cucumbers. Sprinkle with paprika and garnish with sprigs of dill.

Cabbage-Stuffed Peppers

6 sweet red peppers

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 small onion, finely sliced

1 head white or green cabbage, shredded

1 tablespoon chopped dill

2 teaspoons mild mustard

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper

Fresh dill to garnish

Cut the tops off the peppers and remove the seeds and cores. Blanch the peppers and tops in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on paper towels. Heat the butter or margarine in a large saucepan and add the onion and cabbage. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the chopped dill, mustard, vinegar and sugar. Taste and add more vinegar or sugar as necessary, together with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spoon the cabbage filling into the peppers and replace tops. Place in a tight-fitting baking dish. Pour in a little water and cover the dish with foil. Bake at 35 to 45 minutes or until the peppers are just tender. Garnish with fresh dill and serve hot as an accompaniment to meat.

Wilted Lettuce

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed

8 strips bacon

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup cream

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

4 tablespoons cider vinegar



Tear lettuce into large pieces and place in a bowl. Dice the strips of bacon and fry slowly until some of the fat renders. Raise the heat and cook bacon until crisp. Scatter over the lettuce. Melt the butter in the pan with any remaining bacon fat. Stir in the cream and bring to a boil, then simmer gently. Beat the eggs with the salt, sugar, vinegar and pepper. Pour into the cream mixture and cook until the consistency of thick custard, stirring constantly. Pour over the lettuce and bacon and toss to coat. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately as a side dish with meat or poultry.

Asparagus and Potato Salad

1 pound small red or white potatoes

12 ounces fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped, dried if desired

1/3 cup Italian salad dressing

4 cups Romaine hearts, separated into leaves

4 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled

Quarter potatoes. Peel. In a large saucepan, cook potatoes, covered, in lightly salted boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender. Add asparagus the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain. Return to saucepan. Add tomatoes and salad dressing. Gently toss to coat. Arrange Romaine on salad plates. Top with potato and asparagus mixture. Sprinkle with bacon pieces.

Zucchini and Tomato Casserole

3 tablespoons uncooked long grain rice

1 pound zucchini, sliced

3 large tomatoes, sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2-quart baking dish with nonsticking cooking spray. Sprinkle uncooked rice in bottom of dish. Layer half of the zucchini, tomatoes and onions in dish. Combine brown sugar, basil, pepper and salt. Reserve 1 tablespoon mixture. Sprinkle remaining mixture over vegetables. Repeat layers of vegetables. Sprinkle with reserved 1 tablespoon mixture. Drizzle with butter. Bake about 45 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Pea Salad

1 package frozen or fresh cooked peas

1 cup diced Cheddar cheese

2 hard cooked eggs, chopped

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped dill pickles

1 jar sliced pimiento, drained

1/2 cup real mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Lettuce, optional

Thaw peas if frozen. Drain off any excess water. In a salad bowl, combine peas, cheese, eggs, onion, pickles and pimento. In a medium bowl sir together mayonnaise, lemon juice and pepper. Add mayonnaise mixture to pea mixture, stirring gently to combine. Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving. Serve in a lettuce-lined bowl if desired.

Crazy Corn

2 can whole kernel sweet corn or its equivalent of fresh corn

1.2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red pepper

1/2 cup dairy sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

In a large bowl, stir drained corn, peppers, sour cream and mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt the pepper. Chill for 4 to 24 hours.

Marinated Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup salad oil

2 tablespoon snipped parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

Scrape carrots and cut into long, thin strips. Cook in small amount salted water (covered) til tender. Drain and cool. Combine remaining ingredients. Toss with carrots. Chill covered 3 to 4 hours and serve.