“There is so much more to eating than just eating. Eating is picking blackberries, or deciding to pick blackberries next week, or remembering blackberries you picked fifteen years ago.” (Ruby Tandoh, Eat Up!)
These halcyon days, after weeks and weeks of stifling humid weather without precip, have been making people delirious. After the hottest July ever recorded in our part of the northern hemisphere, after these two months of virtually no rain here in MoCo, we can finally let go a bit, even put on a sweater. This reckless, happy change led someone I know to say, “I think fall is going to be early this year” which I take as a way to express joy at the arrival of a new season. Something ancient has returned to us this week along with those two inches and more of rain brimming up in our gauges. After that meaningful watering, the whole earth sighed and started greening and growing, though our shortening days tell us growing season is waning fast.
Day by day now all those spring plants are coming to mad and heavy fruition. At the melon end of our garden, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honey dews loll around, all bright and round, the spent vines dying around them: those big-bellied beings look expectant as if they wait in some sort of vegetal pre-natal clinic.
But who notices stuff like that? Take yesterday. As usual, racing around, my busy head full of plans and meetings and emails to write and cards to send … scheduling, scheduling, scheduling. Yet one more job, recalled late, was to harvest, and to figure out dinner. A faint sense of dread swept over me. I hadn’t been out there for days and the rain had to have brought back serious weeds. I raced out the door, efficient in purpose to get this done. Done in time for a noon meeting, fitting this task in between that meeting and the early morning one I’d already been to.
Quickly I fill a compost colander with eggplant and Roma tomatoes, okra, tomatillos — what to do with all this? I heap it all up. OK, roast things. Slice up the okra and set those little starry slices out to dry for an hour in the sun. (That subtracts okra’s slime.) Pick kale, pick some of every herb (broad-leaf thyme, lemon, purple, and regular basil, the oreganos, fennel, tarragon, chives, parsley), mainly because they’re there in abundance, they’re decorative, and they smell so good. My mind was still racing ahead, but a little voice said, “Looks like you’re cooking tomato sauce for pasta. Check.” Coriander and dill seed stood in the raised beds reaching their beautiful tan umbrels skyward. I rue the passing of their delicious green fronds, those earlier crops gone so fast in the rainless July; still, on a whim, I shake a big handful of round coriander and flat dill seeds into my hand. I’ll throw ‘em into the mortar and add them to the sauce.
I was striding briskly toward the house, plotting the next thing, when my brain finally stalled out, bludgeoned (that seems to be what it takes) by the soft, still, yellow-lighted, blue-skyed August morning. Exquisite. Unmatchable. I stopped, stock still, and was actually in the moment … in the sun and alive to the day rather than in my beehive head. I drew the deepest breath.
“This moment is the only window,” my spouse/resident poet wrote memorably decades ago. I stood there holding that brimming bowl of red and purple fruits tucked under my right arm. Clamped under my left arm were big leaves of curly kale; my left hand held onto a big bouquet of herbs; my right fist was shut tight around the dill and coriander seed; and, the best thing was to notice that that was how I was. There. Outside of time. Clearly I’d been unprepared to harvest so much. I’d also been unprepared to be caught unawares by the wash of gratitude for the Earth, for the solar system, for their miraculous ways.
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That whole vegetable haul did turn into a delicious, fragrant pasta sauce, a melange of roasted eggplant, Romas, and red onions, stirred into a slow-cooked sauce of onions, garlic, and big, round tomatoes.
Everyone deserves to savor such moments, to remember again and again that food is both our requirement and our joy.
Give the simplest things the chance to center and slow your life. Come down to our booming Crawfordsville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Pike Place. So many possible, simple delicious breakfasts await — fresh sandwiches, tacos, brekkie pizzas made for you while you wait — and at amazing prices. Put Sept. 21 in your calendar when Farmers’ Market will host Market Party in the Ville!, a celebration, a demonstration and even participation in several different styles of dance and music that we can join in on. So come get your share of those early fall-late summer vegetables. And the flowers. Don’t miss the flowers.
As for me, just now I’m munching a handful of amazing, perfect, purple concord grapes straight off the vines in our backyard; I’m also remembering how our 13-year-old daughter planned an arbor and planted them the spring after her brother died. I’m remembering how I took those grapes by the peck to my ninth grade students when we read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. I’m remembering how good these grapes tasted, warmed in the afternoon sun after long workdays indoors. Food is everything; food is everywhere. In the words of E. B. White’s Stuart Little, “Never forget your summers, my dears.”