There is a lot of work this time of year in the garden. The Anasazi beans are drying on the vine and everyday I pluck off the oat colored pods and drop them in a basket to dry with their brethren. This will go one for weeks until all the pods are picked and I can pull the plants and sow a last minute crop of radishes or lettuce. And even though my plants are on a drip system it seems that just about everyday someone needs a bit extra. Like today when the Japanese popcorn’s leaves fell like defeated swords, felled by the late afternoon sun. Come evening I was flooding them back to life.
Harvesting, planting, and watering take my time but what really tires me this time of year is keeping up with cooking all the garden produce. Every Friday my husband and I sketch out a week’s worth of menus. Sitting across from each other at the honey colored kitchen table, after the kids are in bed, we start with the weekly “crop report.” In a monotone mumble, just like the old man on the Iowa airwaves giving the daily dish on soybeans and corn, I list what I think we will harvest in the coming week.
“Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes– white and purple, basil, sorrel, jalapenos, eggplant, frying peppers, cilantro, parsley, dill, strawberries. Maybe the green beans will come in, but I doubt it. Same thing with the tomatillos. There is still chard, but it might be too tough.”
A moment of silence usually falls as we scratch the weary corners of our mind for meals that take advantage of each ingredient. My husband inevitably responds with his familiar drone “how about calabacitas….” I groan back “no, not again” and then we head for the our respective cookbooks- he to Jacque Pepin’s “Essential Pepin” and I to Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors.” When we are done the list is a mix of boring old standbys (beans and calabacitas) and exciting new temptations (Madison’s leek – sorrel custards and Pepin’s curry coleslaw).
On Saturday morning, our list in hand, we head off to the Downtown Grower’s Market. There we buy the ingredients we don’t grow or aren’t ripe yet yet. This past week that meant broccoli and carrots from East Mountain Organics, melons and green chile from Majestic Valley Farm, shallots from Erda Gardens, oyster mushrooms from Exotic Edibles, leeks from Amayo Farms, blackberries from the guys at Agricultura Network and Rapunzel eggplants from the mustache guy (okay I’m sure his farm has a proper name but I have no idea what it is). Sara from Coon Ridge goat farm remembered to bring me plain soft goat cheese and I almost did a little jig because my favorite “honey guy” (Rio Bees) was there with his shiny glass jars of sweet amber.
The slightly puffy faces and sluggish morning greetings of my farmer friends reminded me who was really doing the hard work this time of year. Even Dory of Red Tractor Farm, known for her elfish energy, barely looked up from stacking tomatoes to say good morning. Truth be told, they all looked a bit worn out. But I noticed how it wasn’t that frantic “I’m so tired….got so much to do…. phone just rang” energy that overworked office workers emanate. In fact these farmers were completely un-frenetic. Booth after booth the farmers had a sort of under- water quality to their movements– slow and blunted– as if overuse of their limbs, backs and hands –and lack of sleep– had left them nothing extra to spare. Together they were a beautiful underwater ballet of weariness.
The Sunday after market I fixed that leek-sorrel custard for lunch. It was divine. Even the 14 year old said “mmmmm” under her breath. Eggs, butter, cream, milk, laced with sorrel (a tangy lemony green) and leeks, topped with dollops of goat cheese. Each one was baked in an individual cup- -little pots of lemony clouds.
In my mind I invited my farmer friends to the table, each of us swimming into our chair, and bite by bite we eased our weariness.
NOTE: The recipe for leek- sorrel custards can be found in Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets