A moment of pure bliss: I’m standing in the Fair Haven Fields community garden under a wall of eight foot tall sunflowers. It’s a hot-muggy 90 degrees already, but in this split second I’m alone with the honey bees and all I can smell, and all I can see is green. A thousand different aspects of green.
Some of the sunflowers in the garden are actually volunteers from the previous year. Gardener-in-residence and supreme seed-coaxer, my husband Bruce is the soul with the green thumbs who makes things grow in our allotted plot of land. He plans it out every year — for almost a quarter of a century — but this year he gambled to see what might have re-seeded on it’s own.
With a little help from Mother Nature and the seed companies, the garden is full of vegetables: collard greens, a few varieties of kale, cucumbers, a collection of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes that will run the gamut of green stripes to the coveted bright red Jersey’s, green beans, and peppers — some hot, some mild.
While we wait for the heat to ripen the tomatoes on the vine, I steal a big green one. Not ready for the BLT everyone gushes over, but decidedly edible just the same.
Maybe I was southern in a previous life. My love of southern cuisine, vegetables particularly, borders on obsession. Collard greens cooked slowly with a ham hock, a heat induced kick of hot sauce and a crumbled corn muffin were the ambrosial infatuation of last week.
Today though, all my attention was turned to a monstrous sized green tomato. Thick slices bathed in buttermilk, then coated with corn meal and seasoned with salt and pepper. Sautéed in a little oil until crisp and abracadabra, lunch is a tangy, crunchy mouthful of southern soul food.
Traditionally served with a remoulade sauce, I simplified the recipe by mixing mayonnaise with sriracha sauce and pickle relish. I’ve heard that a horseradish sauce is also a tasty dip.
In this place — our community garden — we are at peace. Neighbors might want to chat about what’s growing, or the little critters that take a bite out of our perfect produce, but in all the years that we have been a part of this Shangri-la we have managed to keep stress, tension, and politics at bay.
Some newer community gardens have a laundry-list of rules. Our rules are basically the same, almost fifty years later: Don’t grow potatoes – don’t steal from your neighbors – roll up the hoses when you’re finished and don’t forget to shut the gate.
There are a few original gardeners left who can remember the years when the only way to water your garden was by using a hand-pump. Our children learned how to prime a pump and fill a bucket. Maybe that’s not a necessary life-lesson today, but there aren’t many who have this experience.
If you have a little extra, leave it for another hungry soul like one of our neighboring gardeners did here. Or pickle a mixture of vegetables such as radishes, green tomatoes, raw beets, and zucchini as I did for the sandwich in the featured image.
If your heart and soul need a re-charge, a boost to remember what is good in this world, and how truly lucky we are to live here, take a walk through a garden. I’m convinced that the energies-that-be had us start out in a garden for a reason.