A Polaroid photo captures my father standing over his barbecue rotisserie. His left hand is cupping a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a cigarette. A white muscle shirt and the smile capture the relaxed day of summer, circa 1972.

Dad was the grill master in the days before bottled marinade, when reduced-priced steaks came on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic with red stickers indicating they had gone past their sell-by date and needed vinegar and salt to make them tasty.

Most of our summer cooking took place over the grill at the back of our house where willowy asparagus and borage grew. My brother and I would sit on the stoop, shirts off and barefoot, our faces pushed into watermelon halves, the rind circling to our cheeks and ears. Our bellies caught the sticky juice that would be sprayed off with the hose. As teenagers, with shirts on and less messiness, we would spit watermelon seeds at each other and a hose-drenched chase always followed.

Mom’s favorite dish of summer was fried chicken, soaked overnight in buttermilk, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and fried crispy. The square electric skillet with melted Crisco held sizzling chicken that she carefully turned with her red handled tongs. It would be served room temperature or cold, in Tupperware, ready for a picnic or outdoor patio service and always with coleslaw.

When blueberries were plentiful, she served a blueberry picnic cake topped with a thick layer of streusel. Mom baked it in an aluminum rectangle pan early in the day and all day we would walk past it resting on the kitchen table. My mouth waters thinking of the buttery crumble and the plump berries clustered in the yellow cake.

Over the years, each of us kids has tried to recreate the blueberry cake recipe, with little success. Mom’s recipe reads as cryptic sentences rather than actual measurements: “a handful of sugar, a stick of butter, a good amount of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg... cream the sugars with your hands until well blended and save half for the topping.”

Cherry pie was another favorite summer dessert. Dad planted a cherry tree that produced loads of cherries. With a bowl on our laps, a paring knife in hand, sitting on the stoop, we would pit cherries for cherry pie. I’ve never tasted a cherry as good as the ones from my childhood.

Gardening was Dad’s project. He grew peas, beans, tomatoes, potatoes and rhubarb. The rhubarb was cooked lightly with just a tad of water and a tiny bit of sugar. It was more of a savory sauce and I would return to the fridge to eat one spoonful at a time from the bowl.

At the edge of our property was a compost pile. A small grove of lilacs and an apple tree shaded a scattering of painted rocks marking the graves of goldfish, a turtle, a cat and two dogs. That was my sanctuary. Dad told me that their bodies would decompose and bring new life to our garden. I’d stand watch over the rocks wondering how that could possibly be, with a bit of sadness, missing my favorite dog, Sam.

Behind the yard were the old Milwaukee Road train tracks. The train stopped running and Dad was the first to rescue and re-purpose the railroad ties. He framed our yard with three high beams for raised beds and made a walkway with the creosoted timbers. Then he built us a log cabin with carefully crossed beams for a two-story fort.

There were perennials like hollyhocks and black-eyed Susan’s and a patio with small white stones covering the ground. Dad cut out leaves with his jigsaw and painted them black and nailed them to the wall as art looking like shadows. It was there — in our outdoor room, with a grill and a bucket filled with sand, and a sign that said “Park Your Butts Here” — that our July and August passed and meals were savored.

Hamburgers and hotdogs were often served, especially on Memorial Day, July Fourth, maybe the last day of summer, and always with chips, pickles and potato salad. Corn on the cob was saved for the special day when Dad grabbed a bag from the farm stand on his way home. As soon as he got home, the pot of water was put on to catch the sugar before it turned to starch. We stripped the corn, (where else, but the stoop?) and as soon as it came out of the pot, we swirled it around on a stick of butter and a good pinch of salt, to be served on little corn plates as the main course.

These are images of my childhood summers. I can feel the watermelon melt away under my tongue, leaving behind a mouthful of seeds. If it wasn’t watermelon, it was grapes, and if it wasn’t grapes, it was the stones of the cherries. Each mouthful was carefully targeted to spit the seeds as far as possible. What happened to those watermelon and grape seeds? I don’t miss the watermelon seeds, just the playfulness they brought, and the flavor of the grapes, the sour skin and pure essence of grapiness that is just not found in commercially grown grapes without seeds.

And where, oh where, are cherries that tasted so good? Food traditions and methods have evolved. Some are more sophisticated and some, like grapes and cherries, have traded the essence of flavor for modern conveniences like no seeds in grapes and cherries that ship and hold well. And there are thousands of marinades available to choose from. As I recall these food memories of summer, I wonder at our modern changes.

The images of my youth are melded together into one, each with its frame stopped in the reel of youth. I have become a person who cherishes flavors, textures and moments around food. The marinated steak sizzling on the grill or Mom’s attention to the perfectly cooked drumstick is what captures summer cherished memories.

Jan Buhrman owns Kitchen Porch Catering. She lives in Chilmark.