Thursday, June 21, 2012
What is it about fresh vegetables? We raise them if we can, and travel miles to buy them if we can’t.
A few years back my Aunt Lois drove 15 miles to a U-Pick farm, and returned laden with turnips, collards, squash and rutabagas. She hustled into my kitchen and started clanging pots and pans, happy as a clam. (Did I mention she was 81?) “You don’t need meat with good vegetables,” she said, and we ate off those fresh veggies for two days.
When I was a child an ancient black man known as Uncle Moses would come around with his mule every spring and plow the acre behind our house. (It wasn’t our acre; my mother rented from the owner.) I don’t know which was older, man or mule, but they got the job done.
We were eating farm-to-table decades before the locavore movement translated to $15 heirloom tomato salads at fancy restaurants. We had pole beans, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, butter beans, Silver Queen corn and peppery red radishes.
I enjoyed the harvest from the garden, but disliked working in it because A) I’d rather have been reading or riding my pony and B) Even then I had an unholy terror of frogs, and a gang of ‘em lived in the damp earth between the rows.
About 10 seconds after I started pulling weeds, I’d spot a toad, shriek, and trample six rows of new corn. Eventually Mother gave up and made me the designated butter bean sheller.
I’ve never had my own vegetable garden. I stick to knockout roses, which even I can’t kill. Widdle, however, has had great luck with container gardening: he’s raised cucumbers, squash and tomatoes and winter greens. His collards were three feet tall last year. He’ll come home after work and happily water his crops, peering around for signs of pests.
Sometimes I think friendships are like vegetables… it’s hard to tell what’s going to thrive or die. (Free tip: If a friend gives you vegetables, make sure that friendship lasts.)
My oldest friend in the world showed me how to dip fresh-picked strawberries in dark chocolate, then roll them in chopped nuts or shredded coconut. When we visited a friend of Widdle’s in Massachusetts, we shucked the corn we ate 30 minutes later as Peter peeled eggplant for the main dish. That remains one of my favorite memories from New England. Then there’s Paul, who started out as a Facebook friend. He has an amazing organic garden at his home in Givhans. He grows cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and onions using no chemicals at all. He keeps the deer and other hungry critters away by bordering the vegetable plots with plastic jugs filled with fresh garlic and water, and planting onions around the perimeters. Turns out deer hate onions and garlic. He showed us fresh deer tracks around the plots, but not a plant was touched. I know all this because last week Widdle and I were among the lucky few invited to his farm and gifted with his harvest. After a tour of the property and a visit with his lovely wife, he sent us on our way with sacks full of fruits and vegetables. Widdle and I made a huge cucumber, tomato and red onion salad, marinated in vinegar, oil and Italian spices. Then came tomato sandwiches, swiftly followed by cucumbers in a sour cream-dill sauce. I ate until my eyes watered. Then I lay down for 20 minutes. When I got up, I started in on the blueberries. Now that’s a harvest of friendship. Julie R. Smith, who’d walk a mile for heirloom tomatoes, can be reached at email@example.com.