Ohhhhh-krahoma! (Or, the color purple).
On Thursday I found actual okra plants, starts, seedlings! (If this doesn’t seem like big news to you , please go back and
read the post for May 27). So maybe I will get some honest-to-goodness non "curiosity" okra from my very own garden this year. I’m still going to plant my okra seeds, though, anyway.I’ve now got two varieties of seedlings, one the old standby Clemson Spineless, (this is the type I have seeds of, and are probably the ones pictured left; I think I planted this variety in the Ozarks for a good twenty-five years). The other is the showier "Burgundy".
This latter variety of okra shares a strange horticultural/ culinary habit, one of transformation in hue. I
know of only a few other plants that do this. Like the string-bean" Purple Queen " (which has beautiful purple pods) and the asparagus "Purple Passion" (which emerges from the ground with its proud, rather sexual helmets and stalks a reddish-pink purple), "Burgundy" retains its eccentric, splendid color only while raw, turning green once cooked. Perhaps some master gardener or botanist out there can tell me why? Or if there are other edible plants that do this? (Pictured: one of my darling new okra seedlings, safely nestled in the ground in our garden. I swear it grew a quarter-inch overnight, and then another quarter-inch on Saturday afternoon, when there was a light, warm, on-and-off rain).
Thomas Jefferson was a passionate gardener (check out the care with which he recorded matters in his garden book … if they had made digital cameras in his day, oh, good God). Late in life, he was asked his age and is said to have replied, "I am an old man, but a young gardener." By which I think he meant, that gardening, like writing, always has something new and unlooked for to teach the person who practices it with humility and devotion, And when you are learning and in wonder, are you so often are when practicing in this way, you are always young.
Here is how Cathy, who blogs at Growing Curious, put it, in a May 18 post:
I don’t think it’s possible to "do a garden." I think the garden "does us."
Before I began gardening… I imagine(d) (a) contained experiment: growing a few things for the summer just for the
fun of it. I didn’t realize how even that would change me. Now, I
truly think part of me would shrivel up and die if I didn’t organize
parts of my life around the garden. Every month — sometimes every day
— something out there astounds, bewilders, or humbles me.
I grow with the plants.
David is here, safe and sound, arriving in a Chevy Aveo, the rental car du jour, late
Wednesday… The car was so schoolbus-taxi bright yellow that he took a picture of it when we went out to Walker Farm Friday and bought more seedlings: the okras mentioned above, tomatillos and muskmelons (I’ve never grown either of these before), plus a variety of eggplant I’d never even heard of, Jilo Tingua Verde Claro. It’s from Brazil of all places, and it allegedly starts out green and turns a bright streaky red-orange as it ripened. That makes three types of eggplant in this year’s garden, the other two being the large classic Italian (the one you see most often in supermarkets), and the thinner, elongated Asian. The latter is said to be prolific and fast to bear, important in climates where spring comes late and winter, early, though the summer days in between are incredibly long. And we got two more heirloom tomato varieties, one called Japanese Black Trifle (!) and the other Zapotec. And they’re all planted. And watered and tucked in.
It could certainly be said that I live in my head too much. I’m a thinker, perhaps an overthinker; I’m content spending hours at the computer and sometimes have to remind myself to get up, get out, move around, go for a walk, maybe work-out… But oh my lord, for all the brain-business, I do revel gratefully in the five senses, too. This time of year smelling and touching probably predominate in the Parade of Sensual Pleasures. Soft hands? Pretty fingernails? Not a chance; I can’t force myself to wear gardening gloves. Not when the feel of the moist rich soil, and especially of crumbling the homemade compost that was once our kitchen scraps, egg shells and watermelon rinds et al, into the garden, is so irresistible. It’s as intoxicatingly full of life to my lucky fingers as the humus-y fragrance of the earth itself is to my nostrils.
Though I imagine, like Ned and my father and many of the people I love, I’ll opt for having this body cremated when I’m done with it, part of me thinks it would be just fine, in fact, rather lovely, to be buried directly, bare, in the earth, to quietly decompose way down below someone’s vegetable garden (maybe this very one?). It pleases me to imagine the matter which makes up my physical being reincarnating in the form of a pod of burgundy okra, or a Jilo Tingua Verde Claro eggplant, a sugar snap pea, or a Brandywine tomato.
But then, I think the basic stripped-down contract of life as an incarnated being on earth is this: everyone eats and is eaten.
It’s such a fragrant time of year. David caught me, left, as I was burying my nose in the lilacs outside the
front door. And digging holes for sorrel in the herb garden yesterday, my arm brushed against some creeping thyme, some rosemary, and the herbal fragrance came up into the sun-warmed air powerfully and traveled into my nose, and as the smell arrived in my brain, more swiftly even than thought could arrive, I found I was singing: "Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley sage rosemary and thyme…" Nearby, the cats stretched, lolled, did languorous show-offy rolls in the warm dirt, waiting for me to wise up and give them some attention. David, coming around from the other wide of the house with a red wheelbarrow full of compost, did so, pausing to do some kitty belly-scratching, softly murmuring their names.
"So much/ depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow," wrote William Carlos Williams, and it does.
(Click here for an interesting essay and discussion of that poem. Or, on the other hand, don’t; just roll in Williams’ words, like the cats in the soil. Pick your pleasure.).
Gardening with David. You know, as much as I adored Ned and as many activities as we shared, Ned was color-blind. Green and brown were the same color to him (he used to have me pick up out which tie went with which shirt for him). So, while he would occasionally indulge me by working with me in the garden, he never really enjoyed it. (Though he used to joke about creating a "gigantea garden", where everything would be Ned-sized; he was 6 feet 4 inches tall. There’d be, for instance, elephant ears, no short little wussy caladiums; tulip trees, not mere tulips, and for garden furniture gigantic stone benches, Stonehenge-ish, that everyone else would need to use steps to be able to clamber up. But all this was just riff, never an actual on-the-books project.)
Now, David loves gardening. Gardening with a partner, even one who isn’t around all the time and so misses some of the small and large daily revelations, is for me new, different, and deeply satisfying. Indeed, our self-satisfaction with this state of affairs is evident in this
snap DK took, holding the camera away from him and clicking.
Ou sonts les cukes d’antan?
Last year, a neighbor gave me some of his leftover cucumber starts. Against my better judgment, knowing how prolific they are, I planted them all. Good LORD what a lot of cukes! One morning I went out and picked eighteen cucumbers… Fortunately that was the morning of the annual New England Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators picnic, a great event which has been going on in these parts 30-some years. So, of course, I made a huge vat of cucumber yogurt soup, spiked with mint, sweetened with pureed green grapes, given a little textural heft with a handful of walnuts; it was very well-received by the assembled, who drank cup after cup of it…
Oh! Speaking of children’s book writers! My friend Peter Gould (novelist, performer, director, playwright — it is impossible to read or see his "A Peasant of El Salvador" performed without weeping — teacher, activist ) just dropped me an email. His first young adult novel, Write Naked, has just been published by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. He described it as being about, "… a teen-age boy, a teen-age girl, a log cabin, Vermont, salamanders, global warming, young love, and (an) old typewriter." It’s the one he’s holding in lap in the picture he sent, left. This description alone tells me this book will be right up my alley. And knowing how really hard it is to get fiction published these days, the book had to be excellent to get a place at FS & G … Thus, my interest would be piqued even if I didn’t have so much long-time admiration for Peter’s writing and other work. I think I’ll do a book party for him here sometime this summer, and maybe review the book here, too. More to come.
Anyway, back to the cukes. So, last summer, given their abundance, just as an experiment I froze some raw cucumber puree, figuring that A) given its high moisture content it would probably freeze beautifully and B) there might be some hot days when cucumber soup would hit the spot but our own cukes might not yet be up, and wouldn’t it be handy to have some in the freezer?
Night before last was the night it was handy. I’m happy to report this simple method of preserving cucumbers works well. Dinner, unintentionally, was green and white (and easy). The cucumber soup from the thawed frozen puree from last year’s garden was delicious. Then there was asparagus, roasted as described on the May 9 post (it was so fresh it was almost slapping itself; it came from about 30 miles south, in Massachusetts). A vegetable burger from the co-op. A small slice of feta cheese. A large slice of some toothsome, serious olive-and-rosemary sourdough artisinal bread, toasted and buttered with herb butter (the herbs from my own garden). A glass of Cortese.
Eating, together, a meal which included something from last year’s garden, but with the dirt from this year’s-garden-to-be still under our fingernails. In time, out of time, timeless, life’s red wheel barrow slowly spinning as David and I ate dinner.