This week’s share: Bok choi, Carrots, Cucumber, Lettuce, Onion, Peppers, Hot peppers, Shallots, Squash, Thyme, Tomatoes, Delicata winter squash
We have a cat called Seamus. We named him after the poet. We have named most of our cats after poets. I think it started with a kitten we found on the farm that, for some reason lost to time, we called Maya. She was followed by another kitten that turned up in our barn who would leap around so we called him Hopkins. Two cats pretty much makes a trend, so they were followed by Seamus, Langston Mews, and the out of control Oscar Wilde. The only time we deviated was for a tiny pink kitten, a minuscule force of nature who to get on my lap would climb up my leg–rather painful when you are wearing shorts. She was called Astrophe. Cat Astrophe.
Not that it really matters what you call a cat. Certainly not to the cat, anyway. We have had Seamus for ten years or so, and in all that time he has shown not the slightest reaction to his name. We could call him Toaster and it would make as much difference to him as it would to the toaster if we called it Seamus. Several thousand years of hanging out in the company of humans, with their irresistible urge to name everything, and cats still cannot be bothered with such trifles.
They may be onto something. Names have their uses, but only up to a point. I buy 300 or so packets of different seeds each season and nearly all of them are named (three of them are recent enough that they just have the numbers breeders use while developing new varieties). But for the most part the names tell me nothing. Or tell me something so obvious as to be completely superfluous. The green bean we plant the most of, for instance, is called Jade. In other words, it is green. Well, that is good to know.
We have an early carrot called Mokum, a green cabbage called Farao, a red oak leaf lettuce called Rouxai (even the folks at the seeds company aren’t sure how to pronounce that), a leek called Gevaria, a zucchini called Dunja and a radish called Sora. As far as I can tell, all those names were generated by some random name generator, or maybe one of the those naming consultants the pharmaceutical industry relies on.
Some vegetables just have human names. There’s a round eggplant called Beatrice (inspired, no doubt, by Dante), a yellow bean called Carson, an escarole called Natacha, a cauliflower called Veronica. They are always rather proper, slightly old fashioned names, like the crowd at a country house party. I wonder if we will ever have vegetables called Shaquille or Yousef.
Then there are the boasting names: Pink Beauty, Ruby Perfection, Megaton, Olympian, Crunchy Royale, Tiptop, Golden Glory, Romance. That last one is carrot, which strikes me as one of the least romantic vegetables. They are all good varieties. That is why I choose to grow them. But not one really lives up to the hype. I would prefer slight more modest claims, like Reasonably Attractive Pink or Crunchy Commoner.
Occasionally, the names betray a sense of humor. We have two new varieties of tomato this year from the same breeder called Barred Boar and Pork Chop, I don’t know why he chose the pig names, but I like to think it amused him. It amuses me.
It amuses me, but it tells me little about the tomatoes. It tells me far more about the namer than the named. Which is true, really, of most of these vegetable varieties. Most of our language has taken shape over vast stretches of time and space and is full of imagery–muscle comes from the word for mouse–and sound effects and little errors–a nickname was originally an eke name. There is at heart a certain randomness to this binding together of things and sounds, of course, but there’s a lot packed into words, and it gives them some heft of their own.
Now, though, the world overflows with these commercial objects to which people have stuck words, hoping not so much to convey something useful about the object as to siphon off a little of the word’s accumulated meaning. It’s a cheap and often cynical way to lend a product gravitas or allure without the product having to earn it, and a use words that adds more or less nothing of value to the language.
This is hardly a new game. I would guess a certain number of aristocratic family names were designed with same intent. But the pace and sophistication has increased sharply, so much so that one can hardly escape it, even, it turns out, on a farm in an obscure county somewhere north of Albany. The best we can do now is ignore it like a cat disdaining the silly name some creature keeps trying to impose on it for no good reason whatsoever.
Vegetable notes: We have given you a selection of quite hot peppers in the paper bag. In mounting order of heat, they are Kung Pao (slender red), Lemon Drop (yellow), Paper Lantern (fatter red) and Fatali (crinkled orange). The Lemon Drop and Fatali have excellent flavor to go with the heat. If you want more of the flavor and less of the heat, use the tip of the pepper and stay away from the seeds and ribs, which hold a significant portion of the capsaicin–or as some of you call it, (E)-N-[(4-Hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)methyl]-8-methylnon-6-enamide.
Delicata Squash has no heat at either end, but it does taste good. And it has an excellent, smooth texture. The easiest way to prepare it is to bake it whole. It will steam itself inside its skin and good quite soft, at which point you can cut it open and scoop out the flesh.
These may well be the last squash and cucumbers of the season. I am not sure if that is cause for distress or joy. Fortunately, the peppers and tomatoes seem to be soldering on more successfully. In fact, we only just started picking from the last planting of tomatoes, so I am about as optimistic as I get that we will have some for at least of couple of weeks more. Optimistic in the sense that I fully recognize that all sorts of things–a freakishly early frost, hail, a very hungry caterpillar–could change that in a hurry.
The shallots are the small red oniony things. Some people would say they are just small red onions. But they have a sweeter, milder taste that makes them excellent in salad dressing and various sauces. Or you could just use them like onions. They won’t mind too much.