Friday, October 08, 2004

Pastures of plenty

I ate a whole eggplant the other night. It was a smallish one, cut lengthwise into four slices and broiled. I ate them on top of bruschetta, toasting some good artisan bread under the broiler, rubbing the bread with garlic, drizzling with oil, and then smashing half a tomato onto them to coat them with the pulp.

We have yet to suffer a killing frost, but it is unusual to have a growing season last this long around here, so everyone is nervously harvesting their capsicums and other nightshades, and trying to pawn the excess off onto neighbors, friends and co-workers. This is how I got the eggplant, along with a couple of jalapeños.

H has been out of town on a work assignment since Sunday, and while this facilitated consumption of the jalapeños (I am the only one in the house who likes spicy food), it has cut down on the family's ability to consume vegetables before they go bad. Prior to settling down with the eggplant bruschetta for dinner the other night, I had to go through the refrigerator on a search-and-destroy mission for rotting vegetables, and I found more than I would have liked.

I am a bit obsessive about not wasting food. My grandmother developed a certain neurosis about food during the Great Depression (she never abandoned the habit of stuffing sugar packets into her purse whenever she ate in a restaurant), and passed them along to my father, even though she raised him in a middle-class suburban home. My mother is from thrifty Yankee New England stock. And of everything I read in high school English classes, one of the images that made the greatest impression on me was the scene from Grapes of Wrath when piles of oranges are burned while people starve.

However, I grew up in a midsized Midwestern city, surrounded by agriculture but not around it, and the fields were full of industrial monocultures — corn, wheat, soybeans. The part of town I lived in was prosperous enough that gardening was more a hobby than a food source, and ran more to flowers than anything else. Living in Vermont now, surrounded by small-scale vegetable farms, some even inside the city limits, and folks who grow serious gardens because buying fresh vegetables at the supermarket strains their budgets, I have a new appreciation for the actual rhythms of the growing season, the natural cycles of scarcity and abundance, and harvest rituals like using pumpkins for holiday décor make a lot more sense.

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