For a city kid moving to the suburbs, the idea of having a vegetable garden was enticing. Pioneer spirit, return to the soil, one with nature, and all the rest.
Okay, so I wasn’t such a kid when, knowing nothing, I decided to dig up a patch of grass and turn it into a spot where I could grow my own tomatoes. And eggplant. And maybe peppers and zucchini. I would save money, grow without pesticides, and come the Apocalypse, we would have enough ratatouille to sustain us for years.
Well, the bliss of ignorance does not last forever. Doing battle with rabbits and slugs, who apparently also like ratatouille, and not quite knowing how to handle a squash that grew to the size of small canoe, or an abundance of tomatoes, soon dampened my farm girl spirit. And saving money? Between the fence, the fertilizer, the starter plants, and my trips to the chiropractor it was probably the most expensive vegetable stew on the eastern seaboard! Needless to say, a few years in, the project was abandoned.
Fast forward to 2023 and I find myself once again gazing at a vegetable garden. Only now it is not of my making. Currently I co-exist outdoors with my extended family and this vegetable garden was a mother’s creative response to COVID. No, she did not fear the approach of End of Days, but rather it was a safe outdoor activity to occupy a restless, homebound 13-year-old. Four years later, we are still “bringing in the sheaves!”
I have to say that the approach to gardening by said daughter is much more thoughtful than mine. She researches, watches how-to You Tube videos, fertilizes, and has invested in a taller fence. She is also more adventurous. While our red, green, and purple produce are similar (although she has traded zucchini for cucumbers), she surprises with a new planting each year. I must admit that the corn and watermelon of prior years were a bit of a disappointment, but she remains undaunted.
This year it was potatoes, which we assume are alive and well beneath the soil. Reaping can be tricky when you can’t actually see the fruits (pun intended) of your labor.
Well, it’s harvest time and once again there is an abundance. I come home to find baskets of tomatoes and cucumbers sitting on my kitchen counter. It is a generous offering, but I know from experience that it’s also a cry for help.
So, what does one do with a bushel of obscenely large cucumbers, some of which resemble a man-part with Peyronie’s disease? I quickly put that vision out of my head and set to work searching my pathetic collection of cookbooks for cucumber recipes that were not X-rated.
I had no idea that cucumbers were so versatile. In addition to creamy cucumbers, smashed cucumbers, dilled cucumbers, there are also Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Korean versions of this ubiquitous fruit. (Didn’t even know cucs were a fruit.)
I made cucumber soup, cucumber water, cucumber sandwiches, and chopped cucumbers into my tuna fish salad. I placed chilled cucumber slices over my eyes to reduce dark circles and puffiness and considered trying the same therapy on my Buddha belly. Honestly, I did my best, and yet there are more.
And of course, there are the tomatoes. Tomatoes of all sizes. Cherry tomatoes that grew as large as kumquats. Have you ever tried gazpacho for breakfast? Add a dollop of sour cream and you’re on to something!
We are eating chicken with tomatoes, pasta with tomatoes, mozzarella with tomatoes, tomatoes with tomatoes! And yet there are more.
I’m reminded of an essay that I read years ago. It was written by Russell Baker, who, among other things, wrote the Sunday Observer column for the New York Times Magazine.
He wrote about trying his hand at gardening and making the mistake of planting zucchini squash, which, like the cucumber, multiplies like the brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Not knowing what to do with all that zucchini, he tried to give them away to neighbors, who locked their doors as they saw him approach. Feeling desperate, he came up with a plan. He loaded his car with baskets full of squash and drove to the large parking lot of the local mall. He tried the door handles of the empty cars, and if any doors were unlocked the unsuspecting owner would return to find a basket of zucchini on the back seat!
There must be a reason why I remember this essay so well. Of course, it came to mind when we were trying to figure out what to do with too much of a good thing. I haven’t yet tried Mr. Baker’s tactic. But there’s still the matter of the potatoes!