Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Summer Garden Part I: It's Romantic

Is it just me, or is there something luxurious about eating from your own garden? It seems backwards to feel that way. I mean, there’s nothing particularly fancy about digging in the dirt to plant seeds and sproutlings, and nothing really glamorous about tending and weeding and watering most days. You can just trot down to the store and have things ready and waiting, any time. But to me, harvesting, prepping and savoring the literal fruits of my labor feels romantic – decadent, even.

I know exactly why. It’s because, 9 out of 12 months of the year, I feed my family out of convenience. I know it’s ghastly, but my normal weekly grocery list includes things like microwave-steamable veggies, 3.5-minutes-in-the-nuker mac-n-cheese, zapable, frozen, square, mini cheeseburgers, pre-marinated chicken breasts, a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, tubed crescent rolls…the list goes shamefully on.

I'll hurriedly add that that’s not ALL that’s on the grocery list. You can even ask Hubby if I’m not a pain everyone’s ass all week long, trying to get them to eat healthy elements. "Fresh" veggies are a must at some point or another every week, although it’s always in the back of my head to worry about where they came from and if they’ve been handled properly. Ditto fruits. Sometimes I even buy those pre-packed (at least I insist that they’re packed in juice and not syrup). I do like to try to feed everyone reasonably well. It’s just that, more often that not, we use convenient, modern shortcuts to help us out along the way.

Lots of those shortcuts really keep you away from getting to “know” your food. The steam-bags of veggies don’t even let you SEE the food until it’s done cooking. Pre-marinated and pre-cooked anything denies you of an opportunity to be creative with herbs and spices. I guess, if you like to bake, you might feel like you’re missing out on something by buying cylindrical cans of raw dough – I don’t personally have a problem with that one though; I really hate baking. But you get the idea.

And then, 3 months out of the year, my garden, like a fair-weather lover, bestows on me the finest of fine things. I do my best to earn my gifts and wait patiently for them to be presented. While I wait, I am charmingly and whimsically entertained. I watch bright green, tender, new shoots stretch and lengthen and bear pretty little curlicues and eventually, flowers, which are a promise that the best is yet to come.

The emergence of young fruit brings excitement, but it’s not until they’ve plumped up and colored-in and hang heavy and lush and ready on the vine that the bliss really begins. There’s a certain thrill in the harvesting. When you go to pluck a ripened fruit and it gives way easily, practically jumping into your hand – you know you and your garden are intimately in sync.

Washing still-warm garden bounty is a joy. A quick rinse under cool water serves only to carry away the dust from the soil or the remnants of a dried raindrop. Worries about harsh, unnatural repellants or waxes don’t even exist on this plane; there’s a certain serenity in that.

Taking a few moments to look at, smell and touch the harvest is the tantalizing, penultimate experience prior to taking the first taste. Truly a feast for the eyes, the color palette is deep and rich, bright and vibrant; aptly, jewel-like, since these are, after all, the gems of the garden. The fragrance – that can only come from the newly-picked - is earthy with a certain perfume-y quality, compounding the allure. Holding and feeling (caressing?) the heft of ripened fruit, with its taut skin and firm yet yielding flesh, is a tactile delight. Even the bite of the knife is a satisfying feeling – the fruit offering the appropriate amount of resistance before giving way.

And then, finally, to taste. Richness of the earth, warmth of the sun, sweetness of the rain, freshness of the breeze. Sustenance the way sustenance was intended to be: pure and clean and good.

For me, growing a garden and reveling in its yield is an anticipated experience, an enticing affair. It engages my emotions and indulges my senses in the most pleasant ways. It’s romantic and seasonal - the quintessential summer fling!  And it's exclusive - not everyone gets to enjoy what a garden has to offer.  A luxury, indeed, and one that can definitely not be found in the produce aisle.

Continue to Part II

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