This week’s share: Basil, Napa cabbage, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Zucchini
I am starting to suspect that I have for some time unwittingly played a central role in an animal reality show called “How Many Vegetables Can You Eat.”
The full scope of my role in HMVCYE remains a little unclear. I still don’t know if I am expected to judge the competition, or just provide the vegetables and create a series of exciting challenges for the contestants. And if I am meant to decide the winner, I will need some guidance about the criteria. For instance, is it just about eating as many pounds of vegetables as possible? That’s the obvious measure, but it does give the deer a serious advantage. So it could be adjusted by body weight, allowing the voles, for instance, a shot at victory.
Maybe, though, it’s about economic impact, which adds an intriguing element of guesswork for the creatures, who probably have an imperfect knowledge of the market value of my crops. They cannot just go around the fields eating what they like. They have to try to think like a person and figure out what crops to focus on. And it’s not just a matter of figuring out prices, which they could do fairly simply by visiting the farmer’s market and taking notes. They need to know what sells. Does grazing on the edamame really get you anywhere, or have you wasted your time on a specialty crop that, sure, sells for a decent price, but that most people are going to ask about and then pass on in favor of green beans?
To further complicate matters, you can reduce yield in different ways. Rather than simply eating the marketable crop, you could, for instance, top the pepper plants when they are small, figuring that a decapitated plant will surely produce fewer peppers. But in a good year, that plan might backfire. You might instead have pruned the plants in such a way that yield increases. And what do you do with potatoes? Eating the plants will unquestionable reduce yield, but the leaves are mildly toxic. Worth it?
There’s also a small chance that it’s not about quantity or value at all. Victory might go to the creature that makes itself the most annoying. Yes, eating a lot and eating valuable things will get you a long way there. But you might also score well for persistence, for taking tiny nibbles out of lots of vegetables, or for going after particularly vigorous crops we are about to harvest.
I must say that whatever the specific rules of HMVCYE might be, I am impressed by the work the contestants have been putting in. There’s a groundhog that’s a particularly strong contender, with high marks for ruining a planting of escarole in a greenhouse (extra credit for going into a structure) in such a way that it looks perfectly good until you get close enough to see the groundhog has subtly wrecked every head. I have also been quite impressed by the rat that recently tunneled into the heavily defended seedling house again, climbed on the bench, and dug up and ate a whole planting of zucchini. Now that’s an effective way to reduce the yield.
It is tempting, of course, to lay all the blame on the creatures eating my crops. They are clearly at least as mischievous as they are hungry. But I have to accept some of the responsibility. After all, I keep putting out concentrated plantings of crops that are tastier than anything growing in the fields and hedgerows all around us. Yes, pissing me off by clearing out a patch of beets or ripping up a row cover to get at the chard is a large part of the fun, but I am pretty sure all these creatures also consume the crops because they are delicious and abundant. I have set up an attractive buffet in their house. Of course they are eating from it. I either have to switch to much less tasty crops, or just accept my part in the show, and hope that my status as a minor celebrity amongst the herbivores of Easton is compensation enough for the lost crops.
Vegetable notes: As I have noted numerous times before, I do not like fennel, and Liz loathes it, so I do not use it. Thus I have no suggestions on what to do with—other than to avoid it. I am told you can make a nice salad with it, and I did once have a fennel gratin that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.
Zucchini should hire a branding consultant. It gets unmerited bad press. I understand that there can be an overabundance of it at time, but that is a fairly mild fault in a crop. It is a versatile vegetable. It can be grilled, roasted, sautéed, baked, and used raw. It can be a noodle (julienne it, salt it for an hour, and squeeze out the moisture), a vessel for stuffing, part of a chocolate cake, an excellent sandwich ingredient (sliced, grilled, marinated,, with some mozzarella, a few picked peppers and maybe a slice of ham). It is true that an overgrown zucchini can be pointless—no flavor, unpleasant texture—but an overripe tomato isn’t a thing of beauty either, and we don’t hold that against tomatoes.