Sunday, April 22, 2012

Playing with My Food

Today I am pondering the fact that so many people in this country go through life without even the most rudimentary understanding of the life cycle of the foods they eat. There seems to be a huge disconnect for most people between what they see on their plate and the greenly growing creatures in the world around them. This is one of the reasons why I love living in a rural community, because people in my hometown are connected. They all have gardens, if not farms. I try to imagine what it might be like to be unable to recognize an apple tree in blossom or to have no idea when cherries are actually in season. I had someone ask me the other day what kind of tomatoes I grow. What a ridiculous question. I grow about a dozen different heirloom varieties and the selection changes from one year to the next. Some people can think of only one or two kinds of tomatoes. Some people have never seen a dramatic green Zebra tomato, a brilliant yellow Sungold, or a deep purple-red Paul Robeson tomato.  

The most mystifying thing to me of all is how people can live without growing at least some of the things they eat. Even if they only have a tiny patch of ground or a deck big enough to hold only a few pots. How can people pass up the opportunity to grow their own food?

When I was a teenager, my family visited my cousins in France. They had an apartment in Paris and a little country home on about three acres of land an hour’s drive from Paris in a town called Maule. We drove to Maule and spent the afternoon with them. They proudly took us on a tour of their abundant orchards. At one point Cousin Joseph turned to my father and asked him how much property we owned in our suburban town in the U.S. Dad replied that he had about a quarter of an acre. So Joseph asked, “And what do you grow on it?” Dad replied that we didn’t grow anything on it. Joseph’s question always stayed with me. The truth was that mostly Dad grew a lawn on it. You can’t eat a lawn. Although that’s the standard crop of suburbia. In the summer my mother would till a little vegetable patch and grow tomatoes and green beans. In retrospect, I think her little vegetable patch may have been what inspired me to a lifelong love of gardening. I clearly remember grazing on her green beans while standing barefoot in the dirt. Nothing in the world tastes better.

My half-acre yard is bursting at the seams with food. Vegetables, fruit trees and vines, herbs. Also the flowers! In the summer I grow three varieties of apple, both white flesh and yellow flesh peaches, Santa Rosa plums, cherries (they are ripe in June, by the way), strawberries (I am just finishing up the ones in the freezer from last year and there are now flowers on this year’s first crop), raspberries, blueberries. This time of year I have collards and asparagus. Oregano, thyme, tarragon, peppermint, and spearmint grow pretty much year-round.

This weekend, with the unseasonably warm weather, I confess that I’m being lured into planting early; despite the fact that we are nowhere near clear of a killing frost. I am exercising restraint, but gosh it’s difficult. I am already salivating thinking about my summer squashes (zucchini and patty pan), eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and lemon cucumbers. For me, summer arrives for real when I bite into the first homegrown tomato, round about the end of  June or first of July. I pity those people who have no idea what that experience is like, who buy hothouse-grown tomatoes year-round at the grocery store, and would not be able to recognize a tomato plant if it was growing in their kitchen sink. Homegrown food reminds me of life’s bounty and cancels out all the evil in the world in one mouthful.

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