Thursday, August 1, 2013

Home-Grown (On Nana's Farm Part II)...

When I was a kid, my parents treated gardening as a serious business. We had two gardens in our backyard, filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, dill, squash, and zucchini. My loathing for zucchini began early on, mainly because of the mountains of the vegetable that came tumbling out of the garden all at once, forcing us to eat zucchini and nothing but zucchini for weeks on end. Fried zucchini, breaded zucchini, zucchini in spaghetti, ratatouille (pronounced by us as rat-TAT-tooyie), zucchini bread ... you get the idea. The tomato, on the other hand, I developed a deep love affair with from my earliest days. The sheer smell of the plant, the little yellow flower from behind which swells a lovely little green tomato, that's the good stuff right there. I would pick them when I was hungry and eat them like apples.

My parents were also very serious about canning, another thing I loathed as a kid. When it came time to "put up" jars, I knew it was time to get as far as possible from the kitchen. Our house had no air-conditioning, and the temperature in our tiny kitchen would swell from a comfortable temperature of about 75 degrees to something akin to the third level of hell. You were also "commissioned" into picking as many vegetables from the garden as you could and carrying the bushel baskets into the sweltering kitchen that had taken on the appearance of a witches' lair, pots bubbling away on the stove, people bickering about, well, everything, and jars upon jars of odd looking concoctions stacking up on the counters.  You know what they say - If you can't take the heat, get the hell out the kitchen. (I'm still convinced canning season was a contributing factor in my parents' divorce).

My kids have very little experience of this world. We live in town. I don't have a garden. I don't can. They are very much city kids. Even I, many years removed from my childhood self, find myself nowadays terrified of a natural world that I used to find thrilling. When confronted by an expanse of uncorrupted land nowadays, especially at night, I become suddenly terrified, overwhelmed by how much of "it" there is in comparison to little old me. And what might be lurking in it. Like zombies. Or werewolves.

The only contact my girls really do have with the earth is at my mother's. My mom is a child of the dirt, and I mean that in the most flattering of ways. The woman can work magic with flowers, and her garden, when I really looked at it near the end of growing season last year, dumbfounded me; the fact that she had carefully tended such bounty out of the ground seemed almost like sorcery.

Points if you can find Miss Ladybug. 
Feed me, Seymour!!

Picking peas. 
Onions, upside-down. 
I couldn't resist a children-of-the-corn pic. 
Helping Nanny reminded me of how much I love getting down and dirty in the garden, underneath all of the angst I remember about working in it as a kid. And the stuff that comes out of it beats anything you can find at the local grocery, hands down. If you don't believe me, hit up your local farmer's market (or garden) and try this salad, one of the most beautiful I've ever concocted:

Shelled Pea, Tomato, and Feta Salad

1. Shell about two handfuls of "shelling peas" (also called English or Garden Peas) and add to bowl. When you get these at the peak of freshness, they add such a lovely "green" taste to the salad. I can't think of a better way to describe their flavor. Just a luscious "green." BTW, try them, even if you think you don't like peas. They're a far cry from the mushy kind you get in a can.

2. Halve one pack of grape or cherry tomatoes (or the equivalent thereof fresh from the garden) and add to bowl.
3. Dice the bulb and a little of the stem of one onion, and mince a handful of fresh dill. Add both to bowl. Also add a handful of feta.

4. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and crack in some sea salt and black pepper. Stir to combine and you're ready to go.

Easy, delicious, and healthy. Now, go get your hands dirty. Peas and love. ~Alice (aka jess)
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