Celebrating the garden.
As published in The Lake County Bloom.
It's spring. Let's grow some food. Does it ever just stop you dead in your tracks to think that you can take a tiny little pinprick of a seed and grow it into a plant that will produce one to hundreds of something you can eat to keep you alive? Every spring I go through a state of awe first, then thankfulness, followed quickly by terror. The terror comes from the same place. . . Wow, look at all those sprouts!
I’m sure you've heard this joke: "I grew up in a small town where no one ever locked their doors, except in the summer." "Why in the summer?" "Because if you didn't, you'd come home to a dining room table full of zucchini from your neighbor!" That is the truth. My small town was in rural north Missouri, very near the Iowa border. We had a small back porch, maybe 6x6. I have distinct memories of coming home to that porch FULL of both zucchini, the predominate home gardeners crop, and corn, the industry growing crop of the region. And I do mean full, in the way of overflowing paper bags laid on their side and stuffed 12 deep. My mother, who had zero interest in growing anything or prepping real veggies, would release a graven sigh and tell me to start shucking, washing and peeling. Which I did and I, frankly, enjoyed – but I never let her know. I was a teenager after all.
Everything in that town revolved around the growing season. The school year ran, for the most part, when kids were not required to be in the fields. The high school football season, began strategically, just when the boys would be without field chores and, without them, would likely get themselves into a “heap of trouble.” In the winter and spring, the stores, even the town jewelry store, were sparsely stocked. But in the summer and fall, the window displays and shelves were packed marvels of goods to be purchased. There was a storefront grocer on Main Street who specialized in meat and local produce, packed onto ancient wooden shelves. In the heat of summer, out the open door, you could taste the dense aroma of blood, bone, and green. In the deep of winter, there was no aroma in that shop, Main Steet's length could be driven without a stop, and even the local diner had empty seats most anytime. So many years later, this rural, seasonal clock still ticks inside me, and if by April, I've not had my hands in spring dirt, I am not a happy human.
This week we began preparing the field for the zucchini and the other forty veggies, herbs and flowers that we will plant over the next six weeks. I grow by recipe. Over the years, I have found that if I grow everything for salsa, marinara, minestrone, ratatouille, and roasted root vegetables, I’ll have just about everything we use both personally and in our catering business.
Each year, I try to do one thing that doesn't fit that model. Last year it was okra. I planted half a 70 ft row, and it didn't appear to be doing well. So I planted the other half. Yes, let it be known, there is such a thing as too much okra! The year before I had far too many jalapenos. I wonder what glut crop will rise this year.
On the flip side, there is produce that given ten times the land I have and ten more of me, I could not meet the demand of the kitchen. Potatoes and scallions, flat leaf parsley also. Last year, I had a beautiful row of hundreds of stunning yellow, white and purple potatoes. Each was meticulously planted, weeded, watered, grown and harvested. Every single one of those potatoes was devoured with Bess's Biggie Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches in ONE weekend. With the grocery store organic potatoes not being a fortune, we will shop there for the catering potatoes. Someday I'll plant potatoes again – when there are just two of us to eat them! Scallions and flat leaf parsley are omnipresent in nearly every dish and are not cheap at the grocer. So I continue to try to keep up with the kitchen demand. This year, I will increase each of those by 300%. I am fairly sure even that won't be enough.
And there you have how it goes every year, just like a good summer baseball game--hits, misses, and errors. In years past, it would cause stress and lack of sleep, maybe even a crabby moment or two. Not anymore. In the field, Mother Nature is my boss, and I am merely her eager assistant. She and I will collaborate, argue, pout, laugh and likely even cry over the course of the coming summer. Through that, together we will create the bones of every dish, the produce that holds it all together giving it flavor, nuance, depth, and heat.