September 9, 2021

The Vegetable Garden: Aesthetic and Gustatory Pleasures

I love my vegetable garden. What could be more wonderful than bringing a basket of just-picked vegetables into the house for a meal? It's not just the taste that is important––you'll never buy a potato as good as one that's homegrown––but there is also the act of planting a seed, then watching the seedlings emerge, grow, and bear fruit. Even after almost 30 years of raising vegetables in this place, it still seems a magical process. It's a process of hit and miss––some years a great eggplant crop, another year hardly a one; sometimes insects go on the rampage––but there are always enough successes; it's a process of hope. As Margaret Atwood wrote:
Gardening is not a rational act. 
And May Sarton, in At Seventy: A Journal:
A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.

Although I've mostly given up on my flower borders, concentrating my energy on growing vegetables, I do plant some flowers amongst the the food crops. It's a delight to look out at my garden and see towering sunflowers, adding good cheer to the scene. These are Lemon Queen, and this plant grew to 8 feet tall this summer. But it's not just the sunflowers that I find beautiful; each vegetable plant has its own aesthetic qualities. Corn tassels pointing into the air are like delicate waving fingers.

A sweet pepper plant shows off its dazzling fruit, lovely to see, and to taste. 

Lettuces, with leaves of various shapes radiating from a center, are as beautiful as floral bouquets. 

Red cabbage, a grand leafy vegetable, has gorgeous leaves surrounding a stunning volleyball-sized center. 


I feel so much satisfaction in looking at my harvested crops. They are a reward of hard work, and I'm happy just contemplating them before eating. These three melons are grown from seed from Fedco Seeds, and are: on the left Alvaro, a Charentais melon; behind is a honeydew, White Honey; and on the right is a delicious hybrid, Sensation. Each of these has a different flavor, and they taste nothing like supermarket melons; oh, they are so much more delicious! 


The eggplants were very happy this year, probably because of the early heat spell that we had. I love eggplant, and it's a treat to have fresh ones to cook. Two food favorites: fried eggplant sandwiches, and eggplant salad, both family recipes. Click on the links for the recipes. The fried eggplant link has a bonus of a recipe for homemade pita bread. 


Sungold cherry tomatoes glow on the vine. They are so delicious that I stand and eat them in the garden, popping one after another into my mouth, so they rarely make it into the house. But I can recommend a way of cooking them: toss with olive oil and sauté in a pan until soft and caramelized; simple and quite tasty. 

Another vegetable that barely makes it out of the garden to a plate is corn. The kernels are so tender and sweet that cooking isn't necessary. What a pleasure to stand out in the sun, admiring the plants around me, while eating an ear of corn.

Winter squashes are like hidden gems, nestled under rampant foliage.

Preserving crops is an important part of gardening. Many of my crops will feed me through the winter into next spring. I make jam: rhubarb in the spring, blueberry and raspberry in early summer, and here: green tomato jam––recipe at the link––which is similar to a marmalade. 

I'm grateful for summers with abundant tomatoes, so I'm able to can, and to freeze sauce. I know I sound like a broken record, but home-canned tomatoes are so much more tasty than even the best canned tomatoes you can buy. I favor Juliet paste tomatoes for these purposes. For fresh eating I grow a variety of heirloom tomatoes.


I hang some crops to dry in the mudroom, here oat straw––which I'll cut into small pieces and use for tea––and garlic. "Awe", a perfect sentiment in regards to vegetables, is the top of a Bread and Puppet poster. 


Also in the mudroom are onions, with a Karl Blossfeldt photograph at the lower right, an image of gourd squash stems.

Finally, a peak inside my chest freezer, which is getting packed to the top with summer produce. You can see broccoli, green beans. zucchini, corn, whole green peppers for stuffing at the upper right, and some homemade bagels (these aren't from the garden; I don't plan to grow wheat). In addition to these ways of saving vegetables, I also have a root cellar where I keep carrots, beets, potatoes, and cabbage once the weather has cooled. 

I think about the winter ahead with satisfaction, when I can ruminate on what I'll eat for lunch or dinner and know that an abundant variety of vegetables is at hand. The pleasure goes beyond good food, into a feeling of life well lived. 

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