This week’s share: Arugula, Basil, Savoy cabbage, Cucumber, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Squash, Tomatoes
They have no poultry at the County Fair this year because of the avian flu. The poultry and rabbit barn, normally crowded and noisy, now has just a few cages along one wall and a small case displaying an array of eggs. It gives the impression that Fair organizers somehow managed to forget about the barn. One almost expects some flustered official to rush in, shepherd the few visitors out and lock the door, hanging a hastily written “Closed for repairs” sign on the handle.
I am sorry I did not get a chance to see a champion duck, always a fine and justifiably proud bird. But with the poultry out of the way, we had more time to turn our attention to the rabbits, who normally seem like an afterthought. Actually, there appeared to be fewer rabbits than in past years. Perhaps some of the rabbit fanciers stayed away to show their support for the poor poultry people, compelled to stay home and comb feathers with no chance for glory. Or maybe rabbits just aren’t in vogue this year.
Still some fine specimens of rabbitness had made their way to the Fair. or at least they looked fine to me. I am not really a skilled judge of rabbit qualities. It is entirely possible some of them were not as well developed in the hind quarters as one would want or perhaps had less than ideal paws or ears that lacked a certain something. To me it seemed to be an impressive array of sleekly groomed rabbits, everything from the impressively large Biscuits lounging regally in his cage to mini bunnies, all quivery and apprehensive.
One rabbit in particular caught our attention. It had an impressive mane, but it was the expression on its odd little that made us stop and stare. It looked like somebody turned into a rabbit, some slightly sad droopy fellow who pissed off the wrong magician and was still trying to figure out exactly what happened–sort of the rabbit equivalent of Bottom turned into an ass.
But of course there was no magic involved. Just the work of breeders monkeying around with genes to come up with a new look in rabbits. And not because we needed a new look in raabits any more than we needed new fashions for the fall season. It is just a strange habit we have, driven by an odd amalgam of curiosity, boredom and hubris.
It seems kind of funny, even ridiculous, and a little sad to do this sort of thing with rabbits. But it made me wonder just how different it is when we do it with tomatoes or lettuce. I understand that a rabbit is a sentient being and that we are playing with it for no real purpose. But the desire to mess with life to suit our needs and fancies seems roughly the same, whether we are messing with furry little pets or fruits of the vine. In either case, we do it to satisfy our wants, with little thought for or understanding of the consequences for others.
But maybe this how it is supposed to work. We are just another engine of change in the world. It is all a complex set of interactions and we are a part of that. A powerful part of that, to be sure, possibly cataclysmic even, but still just a part. Maybe the hubris lies not in working to bend the world to our will, but in thinking that that is anything so special in the long run. Some day when the maned rabbits have taken over and are hacking their empires out of the vast tomato forests, we will be remembered alongside a few asteroids and megavolcanoes, strange destructive forces of nature everyone hopes the world won’t encounter for another millennium or so.
Vegetable notes: We are growing a lot of varieties of tomatoes this year (as usual). I have lost count. And in a few cases lost track. I am certainly not always sure which red one is which. But some of them are unusual enough to make naming them relatively easy (though one stumped us for a while). I will not do the full introductions right now. But I thought I might identify a few of the more interesting ones you might find in your share, such as the large green/yellow one, which is Cherokee Green. Or the smaller, slightly stripy green one, Green Zebra. Or the dark red and greenish/gold striped one, called Barred Boar. Or the Big yellow one with pale stripes (that’s the one that confused us), which we are pretty sure is Pork Chop (can’t explain the name). We do know the pear-shaped dark one is Japanese Black Trifele (can’t fully explain that name either, especially since it may come from Russia). The smallish slightly flattened one is Carbon, and the round one is Black Prince. And the big purple one is Cherokee Purple.
Some of these, such as Green Zebra, we have grown for years and some, such as Pork Chop, we are trying for the first time. We switch things around in the tomato patch every year, partly just for the hell of it, and partly because there are a lot of tomato varieties–old and new–to try. If a variety seems to have obvious strengths–productivity, disease resistance, taste–we will try it again. If continues to thrive in different conditions we stick with it. If not, we try some other kind. It would probably make more sense to narrow down the tomato list and mostly just go with modern hybrids, but it would be a lot less interesting, and less tasty.
We also grow a number of different hot peppers. You have two kinds in the share this week. There are two Jalapeños (small, blunt, dark green) and one that could be–in roughly increasing order of hotness–a Bulgarian Carrot (smooth and orange), Thai (long, thin, red), Lemon Drop (crinkly pale yellow), Paper Lantern (crinkly red), Fatali (crinkly yellow/orange, or Bhut Jalokia (crinkly, red and green). All of those are at least quite hot, and the last two on the list should be approached cautiously.