The final harvest is underway, and among the fruits are my memories. Among those nourished is my soul.
I have such a deep history with food, thanks to family, tradition, and good fortune.
I remember summers spent in my great-uncle Pete’s cornfields. From those endless seas of grass we picked truckloads of corn. I’m not exaggerating: The F-150 would be full to the brim with aromatic ears of grain. The plants, taller than I was, were bounteous in a way that dazzles me still. So much food from such a little seed. A story as old as the planet, but still fascinating.
That truckload of corn didn’t shuck itself. We spent days, it seemed, removing husks. I’m still pretty efficient, remembering the best method for removing leaves and silks in just a few motions, revealing the clean and gleaming kernels.
Mom would stay up all night processing the corn for freezing. She did the same with the acres of peas we harvested. Likewise for the tomatoes, with the canning rig all revved up and running into the morning. The popping of canning lids, signaling a job perfectly done, is still music to me.
My last major garden in Denver was a crazy one. Tomatillos, doing what they do best, multiplying by the millions; volunteer tomatoes plants, with the momentum of 7 years of compost behind them; epazote springing up like the wonderful weed that it is; chiles, and a milpa of squash, beans, corn—all of which beautified the table during summer. Once summer ended, there were more lids popping into the morning, as salsa was preserved for the winter months.
And now, here at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, in this glorious Hudson Valley, I have a new garden. It is far more productive than any I’ve had before, courtesy of the copious amounts of aged, natural fertilizer. The tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro, in a late-season frenzy, have provided me with yet another reason to make salsa.
I am fortunate to be able to continue—and modify—a very core family tradition. Renewal of traditions always brings modifications, for they are concepts, not code-bound engineering drawings. Traditions are not about technical matters; they are about soul. The soul of personal gardening, though malleable, also remains constant: Nurture the garden, use its bounty to nurture others, through either the food itself or the fellowship surrounding it. Score another one for the Tao.
This week, I took salsa to my neighbors Frank and Kathy, and we swapped tales of gardens past. I dropped some off to another neighbor, Susan, as she was picking lettuce for her evening salad. “I have plenty of kale and salad greens left,” I told her. “Come get some. There are chiles, too.”
She responded with an even exchange: some sweet peppers and Anaheim chiles, full of the colors of fading summer. I’m now working on getting those put away, eager to savor them in February.
Yes, without a doubt there is technique involved in preserving food. There are things that must be done just right. If that lid doesn’t pop, it’s all for nothing.
That popping of the lid signals a technical job well done. But more than that, it confirms that all is well with my soul.