You know how you always read heart–warming stories of people’s memories of their mother’s or grandmother’s gardens? About those carefree, never–ending days of summer when they ate fresh, crisp green beans off the vine or nibbled on just-picked strawberries? How they helped their mother or grandmother and were rewarded for their efforts with fresh treats? Well, my mother had a garden but I didn’t do any of that. I thought everything that came out of my mother’s garden was disgusting. She didn’t trust her younger children such as me to participate in the vegetable garden either, relegating them to lesser, joyless yard tasks like digging plantain leaf and dandelions out of the lawn or collecting gumballs by the hundreds. Heart-warming no?
I always remembered my mother having a vegetable garden and I always remember her complaining about it. The terrible soil, the hard work, the marauding birds & squirrels, and so on. Gardening was not about pleasure. Most of the produce was subsequently canned (an arduous process my mother undertook each year in a hot kitchen) and eventually served limp and waterlogged with little or no seasoning. I’ll grant you I was a child and children aren’t typically known for their love of vegetables, but the way they were cooked sure didn’t help.
When one of us kids complained about the taste of the vegetables at the dinner table my mother would invariably, defensively respond,
“That came from our garden!”
“It came from our garden” was supposed to be a conversation-ender, as if everything from the garden was above reproach. Even the family salad, which, by the time it got to you at the table of many, was bitter leaves floating in the heavy-on-the-vinegar dressing at the bottom of the mud brown, chipped, ceramic bowl. Which you had to take.
I would be an adult, one who ate in restaurants and learned to cook, before I could appreciate vegetables, fresh ones in particular. The childhood associations had to wear off first and then I could find out for myself what vegetables were actually supposed to taste like. I simply didn’t know how good they go be. Other people helped. I didn’t know what a green pepper could taste like till a woman I knew offered me some from her garden when I was in my late twenties. I was reluctant, based on the lip-curling memory of the taste of uncooked peppers (why that one was served without the usual overcooking I couldn’t say), when she assured me that I should try it cooked as it became “a different vegetable.” It was true. Proper cooking took the edge off the pungent raw green pepper taste.
Over the years I tried more and more vegetables and was often surprised. Of course, a number of these were never served at our family dinner table, certainly nothing too exotic. I tried okra for the first time about five years ago. Wow! I loved okra. Who knew?
My mother considered me a “picky eater” and it took many years of eating foods not cooked or served by my mother (vegetables may have been a low point but it’s not like the rest of the cuisine was delicious) to discover I was, if not the opposite, definitely not picky. There was a world of food and vegetables to discover and I now consider them one of life’s true joys. I’ve never lived anywhere I could have my own full-blown vegetable garden, but I am delighted by the small amount of food gardening I’ve been able to do. There’s such pride in growing things, food especially.
Vegetables, mostly from the store, have made regular appearances in this blog’s four+ years. Here’s a few.
NOTE: I’m back to sketchy internet access; please forgive any delay in responding to comments.