through a new lens

I admit it.  I’m a little disappointed the cold spell is upon us so suddenly, so dramatically.  I’d hoped for a couple more weeks of sunshine, even of the dispirited kind, perhaps a five- or ten-day bout of Indian Summer, and a first frost date of Hallowe’en or even November 1st, with the killing frost coming a week later.

Last week, during a break in the rains, as I mentioned before, I tore up the majority of the tomato plants and all but a few of the eggplants, and I was excited because the okra were still going even with a slight chill on the nights.  But the okra have stopped doing much of anything now.  The tomatoes are still trying desperately to ripen a few last fruits, and I’m leaving those few after I brought in more than we could ever eat while doing the big clean-up.

I set that huge stainless steel mixing bowl on the ground in the precise middle of the two bisecting paths in the main part of the Victory Garden, and I filled it with mostly okra, tomatoes, and eggplant, plus a handful of cosmos and morning glory seeds and a very few remaining half-runner beans.  (If everything looks a bit dirty, factor in a deluge lasting several days and splashing red mud knee-high in the process.)

Since then, I’ve been out to the kitchen garden for solace, for Beauty, to look in vain for the fat hummingbird I was afraid I’d adopted for the winter, and to get some parsley for my first ever goulash made with real Hungarian paprika (an eye-opening taste and scent, the real thing sent as a lovely gift from my soon-to-be sister-in-law, along with a recipe in questionable English, causing me to shrug and wing it more than once).  I also brought in more sage for drying, made some more pesto for a light evening meal, and went out to grab a bit of chives for some frozen corn that I served myself for lunch one day.   (One new discovery this summer, corn topped with a dollop of sour cream and loads of fresh chives, yum! — especially good if you boil the corn with a pinch of sugar first.)

I also went out there for some basil that I displayed in an old bottle on my dresser, in lieu of flowers, and it gently scented the bedroom for over a week.

It feels weird not going out to the garden to get the vegetables for a meal.  It feels really weird to be going to the produce department of the grocery store, not just for the occasional bag of potatoes or onions, but because the crisper is nearly empty.  I don’t think I went there even once in the month of August. And in late September I made my first regular purchases there, taking a single bag to load all of the loose produce in, feeling guilty for even using plastic at all; the store manager thought I was trying a clever new way to steal something, of course.

He has no idea of my increased appreciation for the stuff imported from all over the world to end up sitting in a rural South Carolina grocery store and then go home to sit in my empty crisper.  Far from not wishing to pay for it, I’m convinced the price is too cheap, and when you factor in the world’s dwindling supply of nonrenewable resources like petroleum, it’s a steal by any calculation.  Naturally, I’m determined to treat each item with as much care and consideration as I would the produce raised with my own two hands.

We’ll see how long this lasts.  Some vegetable and fruit spoilage because of mismanagement or poor planning is “normal” in my kitchen — or has been for the first 35 years of my life.

The kitchen garden gave me another point of view, however.  I’d made eggplant parmesan one night in July, and then honestly didn’t want to reheat it and eat the leftovers.  But I did.  They became part of a weekend lunch, and I started to apologize to Florin for serving him eggplant and tomato again.  He stopped me mid-sentence, though, and said bluntly, “Would you rather we just put it directly into the compost pile?”

A fair point.  No, I would not like to expend all of that effort growing the food only to turn it right back into dirt.  Although rich compost would be far preferable to what most of my waste ends up as when it goes to a landfill or a water treatment plant, still — no, I would define that as a horrible waste.

That has to be one of the most dramatic changes of perspective and opinion I’ve experienced in a single summer.  And one of the reasons I highly recommend even a teeny tiny kitchen garden experiment to anyone who feels tempted.  You’ll never look at food quite the same way again.

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