Eat with Pleasure

Stories and Recipes by Jenny Holm

My last day on the farm dawned foggy and already humid. The heat wave that the Northeast has been suffering through recently had fried the shelling peas and sugar snaps, which prefer cooler weather (much like myself). Elizabeth and I set to work pulling their desiccated roots from the ground, then chopping up their stems and leaves to return to the bed as mulch. We pulled the underperforming broccoli, too, and prepared space in the cold frames for new growth.

After mixing compost and peat moss to make a fertile growing mix and mulching the newly cleared beds with a layer of hay, we watered them to loosen the soil and shoveled our mix in rows over the top. I spread my index and middle fingers to form a “V” and pressed them into the soil over and over again down the rows, making dimples to receive each seed. We planted carrots, beets, and kohlrabi; arugula and lettuce; onions, pole beans, and radishes. We sprinkled a thin layer of topsoil to cover them, smoothed it with the flats of our palms, and hoped for rain.

It seemed fitting to end my stay on the farm with the planting of new seeds. This experience, albeit only a month long, has convinced me that I can and will become a gardener myself. I can no longer imagine paying $3.99 for only enough basil to make two tablespoons of pesto. Or the same price for an ungainly plastic box of greens, grown in California and trucked across the country, when I could plant myself a whole summer’s worth of lettuce for under $10.

When I am lucky enough to live in a place where soil, not concrete, surrounds my doorstep, I will plant herbs and salad greens there for easy pre-dinner access. In the meantime, there are window boxes, potted herbs, rooftop gardens, and community growing spaces to take advantage of. I will plant shelling peas, which are so hard to find in most American grocery stores. (Goodbye, mushy canned and frozen peas, and good riddance!)

Peas, beans, and zucchini can be trained to grow up poles or trellises, so they take up less space in a small garden. Kale and chard are hardy plants that require almost no work to grow and fit into the “dark, leafy greens” category that help prevent everything from depression to cancer. I’ll plant beets, the candy of the vegetable world, and strawberries, which will be smaller but sweeter than any you can find in the grocery store. But more than anything else, I can’t wait to grow my own tomatoes.

A homegrown tomato is an epiphany. Within its taut skin the taste of summer lies in wait for the firm bite that will release it in a brilliant gush. Its ecstatic burst of pulpy, sun-warmed juice leaves your tongue tingling with acid tang. Try achieving catharsis through a grocery store tomato: it will be a sad failure of an experiment.

My last day on the farm ended with a fresh and simple supper, inspired by the season’s first ripe tomatoes. I’d been awaiting these guys since I first caught whiff of the green, musty aroma emanating from their resin-covered vines. Elizabeth layered tomato slices with lettuce and fresh-grated Parmesan and Romano on olive oil flatbread for one set of sandwiches, then melted sharp cheddar on the other and topped them with tiny Sungolds.

We sat on the porch watching the sun set and feeling the breeze finally blow the day’s humidity away. I took a bite of my sandwich, closed my eyes, and felt my tastebuds stand up taller to catch every drop of tomato eruption. This fruit had developed under the same heat, breezes, and rains that I’d experienced on the farm. I’d watched its vine grow taller as I watered it in the mornings, tied it gently to bamboo stalks to support its growth, and seen its first tomatoes turn from spring green to red-orange. In thanks for my patience, it was mine to devour. What a reward.

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4 Responses to “Reflections Over a Tomato”

  1. Liam O'Malley

    Wow, even as a reader it seems like that month was over so quick!

    I’ve had a lot of success already with container gardening out on my back deck. This is my first year growing anything more than just kitchen herbs, and the magic of eating your own garden vegetables is absolutely so rewarding. So far I have been able to eat lettuce, raddicchio, green, yellow, and red peppers, black hot peppers, and three different kinds of tomatoes. Next year will only be better.

    Reply
  2. Jenny Holm

    Awesome, Liam! There are black hot peppers?? I had no idea. Add those to my list!

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Frank

    Hey Jenny,
    I love your writing and am glad to be able to also hear about some of your experience in Georgia! The tomatoes are just “coming into their own” now…soups, sandwiches, sauces, casserols, and sharing are in abundance. Thank you so much for your help with getting them to this stage. Luckily so far they have not been affected by the dreaded late blight that has destroyed numerous tomato plants in the Northeast. I’m hoping the hundreds that are still to ripen on the vines will be spared and I will be able to share them and savor them throughout the season and this winter.

    The harvest of many veggies are coming to fruition now…peppers, onions, kale, cukes, beans, kolrabi, broccoli, radishes, chard, beets, zucchini, eggplant, celery, carrots, cabbage, herbs, and of course tomatoes! Happy end of summer to you!
    Elizabeth

    Reply

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