August 11, 2011 —
The joys of weeding have eluded me this summer. I’ve been tending the algae growing in my pool instead. I treated it with chemicals, vacuumed, brushed, said daily novenas to the Virgin. Did you know there are different algaes? Green, of course, but also mustard and black. It was some small consolation when the pool clerk said “everybody’s growin’ it this summer.” It must have been a July thing. When August came, it went.
But I don’t want to talk about algae. I want to talk about food. I don’t really think about my food except in summer. City-bred, I was used to having strawberries and oranges all year. Living in the country has changed me. July means blueberries now, then raspberries, with blackberries next. June brings the first strawberries but a late crop may appear in August. The blackberry bramble I frequent on my morning walk yields a few each morning, then a dozen or more, down to several, then none. The day my neighbor died, so did the blackberry crop across from her house.
My husband can’t wait for corn. He brings it home from the supermarket, along with 24 rolls of toilet paper, delighted with his haul. It is early July and the local stuff is barely knee-high, I point out. He can’t wait for that burst of sweetness buried in butter. But I can. When the local farmers start selling, I buy it and cook it the same day as long as the crop lasts. A small price for happiness. I like corn, but tomatoes really make me happy. That first tomato sandwich makes even pool chores worthwhile. Any good bread slathered with mayonnaise, a crisp leaf of Farmer Greg’s lettuce, some cracked pepper and sea salt and thick slices of ripe tomato is a lunch to savor on the porch swing with a glass of lemonade. Ah, summer food.
I am proud to announce to my family that their dinner plates are filled with local food. They don’t seem impressed, but I know our First Lady would be. Although I don’t tend a White House-style garden, I do shop the farmer’s markets every week, and I’m happy to relieve friends of their excess beans and cucumbers.
Even the food that spoils while waiting to be used gets new life in the compost pile, reducing the guilt of being a first-world citizen.
Good food, locally grown, has its price, of course. I find I am pickier now that I’m paying top dollar for that pound of beef. Grass-fed? Hormone free? I’ll take it. The farmer who sells me lamb explains that he slaughters early before a muttony taste develops. That seems worth $6 a pound.
This summer’s June road trip left my deck garden bare except for reseeded dill and bare strawberry runners, but I yielded enough thyme for omelets from the flagstone patio joints. And there is always enough mint for Mojitos where I live.
A friend who works weekdays in the city at a public high school that has a summer program tells of her recently realized dream of a school garden. Several years ago she presented the idea to the administration and was rebuffed. She was told then that all food consumed in the cafeteria had to come from contract suppliers. With the help of enlightened administrators and a celebrity backer, she now has her garden, in which she and the students labor long and hard. The cafeteria has been freed to harvest and cook the fruits and veggies of their labor. Maybe there is such a thing as progress, after all.