Tuesday, August 05, 2014
My First Harvest
Our four acres in Newburgh were covered with blackberry bushes. The first year we lived there we were surprised and somewhat taken aback when neighbors started appearing with buckets to pick them. It irked me that people were swarming over our land without asking permission. Fortunately I didn't show my feelings and I later realized it was assumed that the blackberries were available to all.....my first lesson of many in how that community worked, and how different it was from what I was used to. Gradually I learned the ways of that little community and was very happy there for some time. I learned to eat pig ears, milkweed, and a variety of other plants I had always considered weeds. When our garden started to produce, the pace of keeping up with harvesting, cleaning, canning, freezing, and pickling was almost impossible. My kids were little then, and they helped as much as they could. Blackberry pie, blackberry bread, blackberry muffins, blackberry pancakes, blackberry jelly and jam...there was no end to them. Even the country doctor I had then came to pick. We ate lettuce in every way greens can be eaten, including boiled, like spinach. I learned to cook food that I had never heard of. As the fall moved on, the other gardeners started coming to the house with produce from their gardens, trying not to waste the last of the crops. We accepted only if they agreed to take some of our excess in return. The best thing about the harvest was the green tomatoes that were still abundant as it turned colder. My friend Mrs. Belgarde (I never called her anything else despite our close relationship) taught me how to make green tomato mincemeat. I had jars and jars of it all winter and loved it. The worst thing was soaking broccoli in salt water and watching the wormy creatures that were hiding there float to the surface. One was never sure if all of them were gone, so you had to watch for them at the dinner table. The treatment was far from foolproof, and to this day I can't eat broccoli unless I see the cellophane it was wrapped in. I still make the mincemeat if I can get green tomatoes.
There were some aspects of the country life I really disliked, most them involving the huge variety of species I preferred not to share my life with. There was a picturesque stone wall around our property that had long been claimed by a multitude of snakes. There was rarely a time when I opened the door that I didn't find at least one lounging on the front step. They were in the grass, in the garden....no place was safe. They even lived in the stone foundation of the house. Then there were the bats. Going outside at dusk was to be treated to the mass exodus from wherever they spent the day. Hundreds of them hung out of our trees on the front lawn before taking off for parts unknown and unseen. When they got in the house it was very difficult to show them to the door.
Slugs were the next creature I never liked to come across. There are slugs in gardens here, but they are almost not the same species as country slugs, which are as big as the palm of my hand. There's something unpleasant about things without hair and legs, especially when they slither along leaving a trail of slime.
Also on my list....rodents. We had rats that wouldn't fit in a half gallon milk carton. I know this because one died in a heating vent in our dining room. The smell of it alerted me, and drips of some unknown substance kept appearing on the floor. I couldn't imagine what was going on, but finally I looked up to the ceiling. I saw some clawed feet hanging through the vent, at which point I walked away and waited for my husband to come home. After he plucked it from the vent he insisted that I look at the rat just to prove how big it was....and it wouldn't fit into the milk carton he had taken upstairs to put it in. Most nights we could hear thumping and running around above our heads. We told each other it was the cat. There were moles and mice in the cellar, and they visited upstairs often.
Lastly, insects. It was the place where I made the acquaintance of June bugs. They look like moths on steroids and when they land they stick. My greatest single act of motherly love was when one landed on Jesse when he was about three. He was shrieking and crying, and no matter how much I wanted to run in the other direction, I actually took that bug in my fingers and tossed into the air. Blackflies prevented us from enjoying the outdoors, as well as mosquitoes.
I was young when we had our country experience, and obviously squeamish. If I lived there now none of these things would bother me, except maybe the rats. I have since plucked bats from the wall and put them outside, picked up snakes, examined slugs up close. I find mice cute and June bugs harmless. I wouldn't kill any living thing...even a bug.
I now live part way between the country and the city. It is the best of both worlds.