(not so) Fruitful Harvest
It’s the end of August – just three weeks till the start of my favorite season – and as an avid gardener and home cook, I wish I was writing about the surplus of fresh produce in my backyard.
I’d love to tell you that I’m up to my elbows in tomatoes; preserving them with garlic and olive oil in mason jars, making them into pasta sauce, layering them into caprese salads, drying them in the oven with fresh herbs and handing them hand over fist to my neighbors. Cucumbers: in my dreams I’m making sweet homemade pickles served next to egg salad sandwiches culled from backyard hens. Let’s not forget about bell peppers (orange, yellow and purple, please) – stuffing them, sautéing them with leeks and potatoes or serving them raw with a nice spicy hummus…mmmm.
As a city-bound girl, I have fantasies about backyard bounty. I want to fill hand woven baskets with vegetables warmed by the sun and take the six-second walk back into my kitchen to cook something heavenly. I want to cover myself with cabbage leaves and bask in the sun just like Mena Suvari and those unforgettable rose petals in “American Beauty.”
I’m a romantic; one who is happiest writing, cooking or getting dirty in the garden. When I can combine two or more of these pleasures, it has been an extra good day.
Thankfully, the roses, poppies and lavender are overflowing in my cutting garden. But home-grown fruits and veggies, as of late, have evaded me. Yes, I can grow enough kale or rainbow chard to make a hearty side dish and the fresh herbs are always flowing to add to salads or a fine herbes omelette. But in the end, the fruits of my labor seem to lie in the pursuit and anticipation of what could be, rather than something tangible I can actually put into my mouth.
I want to tend to and harvest lush overflowing edibles the way a farmer stuck in the middle of nowhere wants an air-conditioned Albertson’s down the road. Well, you can’t always get what you want. My raised veggie box tally this season is: two cucumbers, one mealy zucchini, four red peppers and a few jalapenos that were actually quite tasty.
It all began in March, with so much promise, when I planted my summer lot. It’s been thrilling to watch the tomatoes, in particular, transform from 4-inch starters into massive plants, over four feet tall, worthy of awe and respect. I’d wake up every morning, peer out my bedroom window, mouth watering as I saw the towering plants. And then……wait for it…….big……..fat..….Nothing! The squirrels and birds got to the “Big Boy” fruits before I did, and the cherry variety never got larger than the size of small peas. I finally decided to take the whole wilted mess out – the plants were mocking me. Here it is lying on the ground with my two hounds having a good time picking off what they could (or picking off anything they could get their paws on, now that most my grass has ‘passed on’ thanks to the LA water shortage).
With no tomatoes (or much of anything else) in sight, I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend and purchased all of the produce I wish I could tell you I’d grown in my own backyard. And yes I did bring my oversized, hand-woven, leather-handle basket with me to the market, though I left my cabbage leaves at home.