This week’s share: Thai basil, Carrots, Cucumber, Garlic, Kohlrabi, Onions, Parsley, Radicchio, Zucchini
On Tuesday afternoon, a line of storms came through, and for a few wonderful minutes we got to enjoy a torrential downpour. In a normal year, by which I mean an average year, by which I mean a year that only theoretically exists, I might have viewed the rain as a slight annoyance, an impediment to our immediate plans to get something done at the end of the work day. But this is not a normal year (though I fear it is becoming so). We have not had any substantial rain since Sunni started in the middle of May. Perhaps I should have taken her name more seriously, had her take off occasional days, to be replaced on the farm crew by Raini. Or perhaps we should have said her name out loud only in an ironic tone. Or whispered it.
At least we go to enjoy that one downpour. When it began I experienced a sensation akin, I imagine, to the way our crops responded to the rain. I felt myself relaxing and opening up, maybe even growing a little, as if I were actually soaking up the moisture, as if all my biochemical mechanisms, tensed up in survival mode for weeks, had started to whir and hum again.
Of course, the rain was just a tease. We got maybe two tenths of an inch (also known as a fifth of an inch, but for some reason nobody ever says that) in a hurry, and then the sun and breeze set about removing any trace of it. In the end it made little difference. And at this point, for some of our crops no amount of rain now could make up the lack of it the past two months. Vegetables are a bit like people. Deny them the basic nurture they need at vital moments in their life and you can’t ever fully repair the damage. I have done what I can for the early potatoes, and they are as well hilled and weed free as any I have ever grown. But without the water they needed during tuber growth, they will never size up properly. We will probably have half the yield we would have with some timely rain.
On the other hand, in a wetter year I would never have achieved that level of weed control, and I might not have been able to hill when I wanted to. Like most things in farming, a dry year has its good points as well as its bad ones. There are fewer diseases (which not only prosper in a damp environment, but also often arrive in the storms that have been avoiding us). We have had an easier time cultivating (even weeds cannot survive being pulled and left to wither in the dust). We have been able to work outside when we need to. Our socks have suffered less. And some of the crops—the ones we put out early enough and have sent their roots deep enough to find moisture–seem to be enjoying the drought.
Still, it would be nice if we got some rain. And not just to help the crops. Weather like this makes you feel like farming is unnatural, like it’s a battle against your environment. That’s a tiring, and probably unwinnable fight, and a dispiriting one. I didn’t go into farming expecting the world to coddle me, tend to all my needs, keep trouble at bay. But I did imagine that my surroundings and I would be engaged in a somewhat more cooperative endeavor. I expected to be tolerated at least, maybe even cautiously accepted if I did my job well enough. When you don’t get much rain for two months you start to feel a little unwelcome. Plus it would be nice to have an excuse every once in a while to take a day off.
Vegetable notes: Thai basil has a somewhat more pronounced anise flavor than its Italian relative, and a distinctive but hard to describe (for me, anyway) almost floral quality. You can make delicious Thai food with Italian basil, but it will taste more Thai with Thai basil. You can also make delicious Italian food with Thai basil, but you may notice the difference. You can also make a good cocktail with Thai basil simple syrup. You could make it with hot pepper, lime juice and mezcal, or bourbon and lemon, or gin, Pimms, lemon and cucumber. So may options.
I don’t think I would enjoy a cocktail made with anything else in this week’s share. Probably better to stick with salads and grilling, or just dip them in hummus.
I will once again extol the virtues of the onions sandwich (good bread, oil and vinegar, a little mayonnaise, salt, pepper, thinly sliced onion). These fresh Walla Wallas, juicy and mild, are particularly good for that. And if you want to make it a little more exotic, add some Thai basil. Or just nibble on it while you enjoy your cocktail.