Home &garden

Published 3:12 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

For many of us who grew up with both a home and a garden, they are practically inseparable. To be a good and complete home, it must have a good garden spot around the yard somewhere. When I have strayed from this precept, I have always been fretful about it. Why? Grass and shrubs make a house beautiful in its setting, and are certainly the norm for a city house, but the inhabitants of a house without a vegetable garden are missing out on something.

Missing from the produce counters of the great supermarkets is the wonderful flavor of vegetables allowed to develop on the growing plant, harvested and consumed at this peak of flavor. Todays produce is bred for mass production and to be harvested all at once by machinery. Tomatoes grown this way have a tough skin so the machine wont tear it, and they are picked green so they wont bruise. Once inside the packing plant, the tomatoes are run through a gas atmosphere that changes their color from green to red. Given no other choice, the produce shopper selects pretty tomatoes, all about the same size, with no blossom-end rot, no blemishes from prying insects (they wont eat that stuff, for it was not allowed to ripen!), and no distinctive tomato flavor either.

Corn is another huge beneficiary of ripening on the plant. The pot of water should be brought to a boil BEFORE the corn is pulled from the stalk. You can pick up the trail of shucks later; the point is to dine on&bsp; corn that tastes sweet like corn is supposed to. The sugars in the kernels start turning to starch as soon as the ear is snapped off the stalk. There is nothing like tender, sweet corn right off the stalk. &bsp;

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It is the same story all the way around the produce bins. Everything is beautiful, in bright green, red, orange, yellow, purple or whatever. Nothing wilted, but kept lusciously moist and succulent so you will buy it. All of that stuff is produced by our huge agribusiness complex, aided and abetted by the agricultural departments of the world who must feed ever more and more people who do not wish to expend any sweat of their brow to eat.

We also like to shelter our house among tall trees, whose leaves help to keep it cool in summer. Unfortunately, my big maples, oaks and poplar trees do such a good job that there is not a spot anywhere on my land that gets a full day of sun. Veggies gotta have full sun to do their thing. So I am dependent on a few hardy souls who will till up a plot in spring, select the good ol fashioned varieties that we old timers cherish, and plant a big vegetable garden. Then they rent a space at the Courthouse (Lord, we should GIVE it to them for the service they perform for humanity!), load up the tired old pick-up truck, and bring those tasty vegetables to us to pick over and try to drive a bargain. For me, I gladly pay their asking price and handle my precious vegetables like the treasures they really are.

I realize that I am fortunate indeed to have grown up on a small farm with loving grandparents who taught me how to make a good garden. Lord knows, I did not appreciate THEN having to hoe the garden and dress it, always working in the hot sun. (You grow vegetables where THEY like, not where YOU like, remember?) It is my hope that this column will remind you how good vegetables can be and that you will be able to exercise some control over what you eat. I hope that young people especially will heed this, and look to patronize the farmers who are still offering good food on our roadsides and city squares. Tell them I sent you, and dont haggle . . . smile into those careworn faces under those big straw hats that have staved off skin cancer for decades, and thank them for growing the good stuff and sharing with you.

This reprint column appears in Garlands third book, The Prime Time, available in local book stores or from the author.