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Slow Down Summer

To make this time with the family last just a little bit longer, Holly Peterson finds the secret to savoring the season in food.

For Holly Peterson, food—like fresh-from-the-oven pizza—keeps family together. Here she tosses dough with her son Jack Kimball (center) and his friends Jem (left) and Seneca Petry. 

An array of ingredients for a backyard pizza parlor, including farm-fresh tomato salad, pepperoni, herbs and dough

Buttery corn on the cob

A platter of mozzarella

Each drop of sandy clam butter or sweet peach juice reminds us that all of our senses are exploding more intensely this month in the true heat of the summer. This special season was heralded by the solstice, a term derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). It’s no surprise we want those flavors to do just that: linger as long as possible. 

All year we wait for these extraordinary East End tastes, sights and aromas to take hold of us: the rainbow mist spraying off the top of a wave in the early morning light, the spicy sweetness of a basil-smothered tomato and even the barbecue-sauce stain (well worth it!) on our crisp white jeans. We notice every tick-tock of time as these scenes turn into memories way too fast. Witnessing summer fly by, wanting to grab all of it at once is not that different from the emotion I feel while watching my daughter, too grown-up suddenly, barely wave goodbye as she runs into camp. 

I just wish it would all slow down and last longer. 

I want everything out here to last. It’s the Hamptons cornfields that get to me most of all—I use them as a marker of where we are in time. Right now they’re shoulder high, and a few tall renegades have yellow stalks peeking out the tops. Phew, the corn isn’t quite here yet, the really award-winning stuff, I tell myself. A few good ears here and there, but we can’t be fully into August yet because I haven’t tasted that perfect balance of sweet and salty crunch, my cob rolled in fleur de sel, the salt known by French chefs to melt on contact. Way back in June, right around that summer solstice, I could barely detect the corn stalks reaching their baby leaves up on the back roads of Sagaponack and on the last few farmland stretches of Route 27. 

But rather than let melancholy take over, I remind myself to focus instead on all the gifts we have out here. Dunking my body into the cold ocean every early morning is like medicine, shocking and healing me all at once. The distant nasal honk of the LIRR passing through town signals us all like a foghorn that families and old friends are reuniting on the platform. And that’s when I get most excited about what I’m cooking for everyone about to fling the back screen door open. As my kids have gotten older—they’re now 16, 14 and 11—and really tried to run away, I’ve had to start thinking about clever ways to draw them back to that very screen door. 

My plan: build an actual hearth to pull them home. And what better hearth than one designed to make pizzas on my very own back deck? Food brings us to those human moments we’re really all out here for in the first place. Cooking all the local produce and seafood tells those we love that we cared enough to create something magical just for them.

So we spent the winter installing an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven at our home that, thankfully, has drawn kids to it like bugs to a porch light. They love to create their own pies. We have a $5 prize for the best-tasting pizza each time we fire up the oven—everyone makes his or her own, shares and serves it on a wood plank, and we all vote for the best pie. It often turns out that the youngest kids have the winning touch, with a thin crust, ample sauce (but not too liquid-y in the middle) and just the right amount of toppings to make the pizza sing.

The grown-ups never win the $5 prize, and the game isn’t even rigged. It’s just that grown-ups ham it up too much—literally, sometimes—and overcomplicate everyone’s favorite dish. It’s the kids who relate to the simple pleasure of it, a pleasure elusive to the grownups, who think they know better. 

Cooking summer pizza with the freshest local produce is my way of making the moments out here stand still. That June summer solstice is scientifically considered an instant in time, an infinitesimal tilt in the earth’s axis when we’re most inclined towards the sun. Without the earth spinning on that axis,
we’d have no seasons, no summer corn, no frothy butter on plentiful August shellfish. And so I’ll decide to enjoy and worship all three months of that summer sun—one that stubbornly wanes and tilts a little bit further away each passing second of June, then July and now August. 

Like our kids running out that screen door, there’s so much out here to help us grasp one more moment together—and hopefully, in the process, draw those we love back home.