This week’s share: Basil, Celery, Cilantro, Cucumber, Dandelion, Garlic, Eggplant, Lettuce, Onions, Snap peas, Zucchini
My acceptable working temperature range has been growing narrower over the years. I am tempted to turn this into a comment about climate change. My body’s ability to function effectively only between a relatively high low and relatively low high temperature might be seen as a reminder of human fragility, and a warning that even small changes to our climate can have a significant impact on our ability to maintain life as we have come to enjoy it. A slightly warmer planet may sometimes sound like an attractive idea. But a planet more inclined to go to extremes that impede our ability to carry on with such basic tasks as growing our food does not.
In fact, though, I am probably just going soft as I age. When it goes over ninety, we start the workday even earlier and take off the afternoon. That kind of heat saps our energy, and we can get more done working fewer and cooler hours that we would slogging through the sweltering parts of a regular workday. It seems like a sensible and humane plan. But when I am sitting in front of a fan in the middle of a sunny afternoon getting nothing done, I start to feel lazy. Ninety is not really that hot. For a significant portion of the world, it’s perfectly normal, and billions of people just get on with their lives on ninety degree days instead of turning it into an excuse, however sensible and humane, to lounge around sipping ice water when any number of tasks need doing.
As much as we like soft things, I don’t think anyone really aspires to go soft. It’s the going part that seems to be the problem. You can be a big softy and be admired for it, especially when you are a big softy on the inside, like a crusty roll. Even softening is okay. An under-ripe peach, if you are lucky, will soften after a day or two and become delicious (though this actually happens with maybe one in fifty peaches, making it unclear why we continue to buy hard ones) But going soft is a different matter. It’s like becoming overripe. You have lost any admirable qualities you may once have possessed or even just promised.
For a farmer, going soft is particularly bad. It’s job that demands a high tolerance for discomfort. You have to be okay with mud, sweat and thorns. You don’t seek cover just because it is raining or stop what you are doing when you notice you are bleeding. And, perhaps more importantly, you belong to a group of people who judge any sign of softness harshly. People who quit farming for almost any reason, no matter the hardships they have faced, are more or less written off. Pitied, perhaps, but the way you would pity a maimed stray dog before putting it out of its misery. And the sense of disgust at any sign of going soft is not just a matter of judging others; we internalize it. One of the of farmers in town, having built a huge dairy operation from more or less nothing, was deeply distressed in the last year of his life by his uselessness. He was ninety-six, and pretty certain that wasn’t much of an excuse.
Given that, I ought to just go out in the heat and deal with it. Except I know it wouldn’t be particularly productive to cook myself. And it is possible the softness has always been there, lurking beneath the tan and the scars and the oil stains. I mean, I grow weird stuff, I cannot plow in a dead straight line, and, most tellingly, I grew up somewhere else in a family of readers. That I would choose to avoid farming during the hottest parts of the hottest days cannot truly come as a surprise.
I suspect this all means I am something less than a farmer. That doesn’t seem like an unfair assessment. I can live with. Especially since it frees me from the charge of going soft. If it has been there from the get go, then when I sit out the worst parts of the day I merely reveal my nature rather than my rot. Plus I don’t get heat stroke.
Vegetable notes: I highly recommend grilling the eggplant, zucchini and onions, and bathing them in a marinade with plenty of garlic and basil. It’s good more or less right away, even better cold the next day in a sandwich with some mozzarella. And in the current condition you can probably do all the grilling just by putting the vegetables out in the sun.
I do not know exactly what conventional celery growers do to end up with such mild celery. I suspect they irrigate a lot. We irrigate a normal amount (we grow the celery in a high tunnel), with the result that our celery has flavor. Encountering celery with flavor, you suddenly realize it is a vegetable, and not just an innocuous vehicle for dips. You could still have it with a dip, but you could also make a distinctive gratin or cream of celery soup.