I Do Not Garden
Children of the Depression
Some background is necessary to understand how it is possible for a grown woman to be in the position in which I found myself.
My mother was raised during the Great Depression, an experience as deeply engrained as breathing. As a result, we peeled every potato so thin the skins were weightless. We scraped every carrot with such care that the paper beneath our work was nearly clean.
I kid you not. We did this when it was no longer necessary to do this. We could go to the store and buy food. Peas came in cans for eleven cents. Tomatoes sat plumb, red and whole inside cellophane wrap. Why, I wondered did we not take advantage of such delights and save room in the day to read a book?
So it was, when my turn came, I never planted a seed. I put more and more distance between myself and garden vegetables. On some subliminal level, gardening represented drudgery and want. I went so far as to pay over twenty dollars for a vegetable tray with ranch dressing. Yes, mom, I did.
I became a store person. I fed my family entirely from food off the store shelf, and I liked it.
We move forward many years. We move into the health phase which followed the high cholesterol phase and the diet and exercise phase. I am still a store person but I have learned to feel guilty about it.
Now comes the neighbor lady.
The Neighbor Lady
We moved to northern Colorado and into a house with a yard and a garden spot. I put some nice flowers in the garden spot. Beside us lived a slightly older woman who lived alone. She cultivated a garden that could feed the nation.
Over the years, we became friends. My highest motivational principle was not to hurt her feelings. For this reason, I listened politely as she explained gardening techniques. I said thank you when she gave me green beans all clean and snipped. I genuinely appreciated the tomatoes. When the squash and zucchini began arriving wrapped in brown paper, I snuck them to the car and gave them to a friend a work.
In return I put into her outstretched arms containers of homemade cookies. At Christmas I shared my Christmas goodies. She smiled and said, "Thank you." She never told me that both she and her husband were diabetic. I will never know if the sweets I gave her found a happy home.
The day of my epiphany arrives. I pull into my driveway, exhausted from an extremely stressful day in the world of teaching school. What do I behold? In front of my door is a bushel basket overflowing with garden vegetables. When I look at this gift, I do not see yummy and healthy food. I see work. I see one more thing that I must take care of. I see responsibility.
Because of the quantity of vegetables I could not lift the basket. I began carrying inside the individually wrapped packages. The first thought that exploded inside my aching head was the care taken in the preparation of this gift. I felt better already.
I removed cucumbers from a plastic bag. I washed them, peeled and sliced them and put them into a pretty bowl. Cucumbers and I are not friends, not even acquaintances. Still, the slices looked pretty, so I found the ranch dressing and set the cucumbers on the table for dinner. We ate them gone.
The tomatoes were plentiful. What could I do with them? I knew what my mother did with baskets of tomatoes. She canned the tomatoes in glass jars that she boiled in a pressure cooker. Was it time to move beyond the scars from scrubbing jars and boiling lids and waiting for the pressure cooker lid to blow off?
Well, yes it was. As I drove to the hardware store I visualized the pleased expression on my neighbor lady's plump, round face. I bought a colander. The cone shaped apparatus sat on a tripod and contained a cone shaped stick with a ball shaped handle. Believe me, I knew how many cans of diced and spiced tomatoes I could buy for the cost of the colander.
I used my Saturday to process my tomatoes. To begin with I had two dozen tomatoes. However word spread through my gossiping spouse that I was processing tomatoes. Within an hour two large sacks and a box of tomatoes sat at my feet.
"You can have them," the man from two blocks away said. "Maybe just give me a finished jar."
I wasn't using a jar.
My original plan was to boil my two dozen tomatoes, squeeze the juice from them and pour the juice into plastic bags, seal the bags and freeze. I visualized completing this task in time to watch my grandson play soccer.
Unlike the tomatoes from my neighbor, the tomatoes at my feet were neither cleaned nor pruned. Really! Shades of my childhood returned.
I could not ignore the tomatoes. My kitchen is small, so I set up a process line. I scrubbed the tomatoes and cut off the stems and began piling them into pans. I filled every kettle I own plus a roaster and the pan from my slow cooker. My counter was filled with containers of tomatoes. The only things missing were flies buzzing around my nose and steam hissing from the pressure cooker vent.
I left to watch soccer. On the way home I stopped for more freezer bags.
The rest, as they say, is history. By eight P.M. I began adding onion and basil to cook with the tomatoes. My eleven P.M. I had turned pouring juice into floppy bags into an art form. By midnight, I started my dishwasher for the last time.
When I got up on Sunday morning, I had thirty-one bags of tomato juice sitting cooled on my counter and ready to freeze. My husband delivered bags to all tomato contributors while I made room in the freezer.
Was the result worth the effort? Sometimes when I make an excellent goulash, I think it was. Did I experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment? Yes.
What Is the Benefit?
Back in the day, we literally survived through the long South Dakota winter on canned vegetables and fruit. I do not find this a warm and fuzzy memory. I was pleased when my mother moved to town in a nice house close to the store and the church.
However, a balance in all things is the rule of life. I enjoy corn-on-the-cob from the garden as much as anyone. I will husk it and cook it. I will not cut the corn from the cob and can it. I now grow and eat cucumbers at every opportunity. I do not make pickles. I have some delicious rhubarb recipes, and I love zucchini bread.
We do not have to survive on our own produce, but we certainly can enrich our diet with our own produce. I am a casual gardener who has learned to appreciate cabbage. I do a mean green bean salad. If I can, anybody can.
I am grateful to my gardening neighbor, very grateful. She brought back to me the delight of garden vegetables. Everyone can grow vegetables. Everyone can prepare them. As a balance, I also shop more carefully at the store. I keep in mind that home grown garden vegetables is only one of many ways to eat better.
I keep in mind everyday that I live in a world of choices.