I have great things to tell you—about our new country life, about the garden, about things I’m doing with that which comes for the garden, but first things first. I drank an earwig. There. I said it. I drank an earwig. Not on purpose, obviously. Viv wasn’t feeling well so I gave her a drink from her ‘pup’ (cup) and I thought I’d join her. Upon taking a sip from my pup, I immediately knew what the foreign object in my mouth was. I could feel its exact shape on my tongue. Just like a few days previous, I knew it was the same insidious insect that I pulled off my ear, laying in bed, in the dark. Awful. It was actually trying to be my ear wig. See here in the country, at least in our house, it is high earwig season. They appear everywhere, including my mouth. I spit it out in disgust—back into the pup and turned on the light to confirm its identity. Yes, an earwig, or as I often call it, an ‘earwick’. I say things wrong a lot, usually metaphors, but sometimes just common nouns. I called them earwicks for the first fifty encounters or so and Nick would correct me. His judgment was right in not correcting me when I was swearing at the one drowning in my pup. He’s tricky though. Even though the episode was clearly disgusting, he gave no reaction. He will not ever indulge my disgust. He wouldn’t do it if the damn earwigs were crawling out of my butt, which they almost were, since I found one on the toilet paper roll minutes before I drank my earwig smoothie. Really, this is an inappropriate start to my country update. It makes us sound like we live in squalor, which we do not (although our summer backyard is looking a tad bit rednecky with the collection of lawn chairs and toys and other lawn paraphernalia we’re accumulating).
And Nick seemed to have a change of heart regarding bugs a few days later when we discovered Tomato Hornworms on our tomato plants. I rarely see the guy get squeamish, but he asked for his ‘thick gardening gloves’ before tackling the pests. I would have loved to take pleasure in his discomfort except I was too busy getting the heeby jeebies. Earlier that day I came across one of my cherished Italian Heirloom tomato plants completely defoliated on top. I was sure a deer had been in our yard and eaten all the leaves until Nick pointed out the humongous, green, Tomato Hornworm on one of the branches. Those suckers wreaked havoc on a good ten plants—all of the Italian heirloom variety. While Nick shares their affinity for attractive Italian breeds, his face displayed a far-from-friendly greeting as he removed them by hand and disposing of them in a bucket of soapy water. Suffice it to say that this was not the kind of bug one steps on unless he wants to replace a shoe. They are strong, dense, and juicy. As I write this I’m just sure there is one on my back.
We found the dreaded Tomato Hornworms just as the garden was recovering from a huge storm. Our peppers were lying on their sides. The sunflowers were hunched over with their leaf skirts over their heads. The corn still looks like that part in the Thriller music video when they all lean to the side in unison. And our tomatoes had limbs strewn everywhere. They are just starting to bear fruit and they remind me of those apple trees in the Wizard of Oz--monsters with their long leafy arms. I’m a little scared to pluck their fruit in fear one will say, “Well, how would you like to have someone come along and pick something off of you? “. Luckily, the peppers seemed to go back into place with a little help. The tomatoes hardly had a scratch even though they had to be organized a bit. And the sunflowers are looking much more ladylike.
Another byproduct of last week’s storm was a homeless baby robin--maybe just a week shy of flying. After the nest was knocked loose from the tree, we found it living in a waste basket on our back porch among many, many empty craft beer bottles (my waistline is severely hurting). Now do not ask me why I had a soft spot for this baby bird. Nick kills a nestful almost every time he mows the lawn and I don’t think twice. And if anyone is unaware of this fact, I am NOT an animal lover. This does not mean I support animal cruelty (I like my meat pastured and properly raised, CAFO-free, thank-you), but I am not the type to ooh and ahh over any furry or non-furry creature. In fact, most of my family knows how I feel about my parents’ ludicrous dog that does simply adorable things like walk on the kitchen table and eat butter and cheese out of the serving bowls and then practically mauls anyone who tries to stop her. I’ve come very close on several occasions to making Cocker Spaniel cutlets. The only thing stopping me is that my father actually loves the little beast. If it weren’t for him, she’d be covered in breadcrumbs by dinner tonight. So why I worried about this bird is beyond me. When I found it missing from the remains of our IPA field day, I went searching, found it living in one of our cherry tomato plants, and proceeded to take more pictures of it than I do of our child. Nick scared my little bird baby from its new home when we went on our Tomato Hornworm Hunt. Don’t worry though. I found it again and it can now fly. Whew.
We are in between crops right now. The prolific snap and shell peas finally turned brown and had to be taken down. The leafy spring crops—spinach, kale, chard, arugula—as well as radishes, kohlrabi, carrots, and beets are long gone and mulched over. However, I felt a little too attached to my lettuce mix to plow it under when we said good-bye to its neighboring spinach and arugula, so it has grown and bolted and looks like little bright green, red, and speckled Christmas trees. We don’t eat it, but it’s so pretty. We harvested our fifty-one heads of garlic and they are currently curing in the haymow (which in my head is spelled ‘hey mao’, like we’re greeting the Chairman). Our summer crops are developing nicely, but aren’t bearing quite yet. There are lots of green tomatoes and green peppers all getting ready to turn red. And we just found the most adorable tiny watermelons. They are the size of an apricot. It’s so hard for me not to pick them and use them for chic little garnishes on cocktails, but I better leave them since I was told that my melons will not be ample. Imagine that (eventually the melon jokes will stop . . . maybe).
Being at the end of the spring crops and the beginning of summer crops has made for some interesting recipes. I pickled about ten jars of snap peas to stretch them out for the next month. They are crisp and spicy and sour. I think of them as delicious little Midwestern olives. They might be delightful with a glass of Manzanilla, which I could not find at the liquor store—note to upcoming visitors. Also, our last picking of carrots found a delicious home with spicy sausage and sage in a tortiglioni sprinkled with parmesan-romano. The Venetian beets were quite tasty roasted in some olive oil and pretty enough for Carnivale in their little striped shirts.
Also, we’ve had much more luck with our broccoli and cabbage transplants than anticipated. The broccoli made for a notable risotto. We’ve harvested our first two cabbages, one of which made a nice stir fry with a few spicy Hungarian peppers that didn’t make it through the storm. The other made a refreshing sweet and sour coleslaw.
The most exciting thing has been our prehistoric zucchini plants. They look like something out of Jurassic Park. I think they are just the most perfect filler vegetable. I know zucchini doesn’t typically sound exciting, but the zucchini-basil croquettes we’ve had a couple of times now are, I think, good enough to make anyone change his mind. They could be a meal on their own served with dill cream. And even better, the zucchini oatcakes with rhubarb sauce we’ve been having for breakfast. It’s a great way to get your greens first thing in the morning! Best yet, the zucchini blossoms. Although they require a little work in removing all the cucumber beetles before preparation (they must be rinsed into a sink of soapy water in order to drown them or they return to the blossoms moments later), we’ve had them stuffed with ricotta and herbs as well as beer battered. The beer battered blossoms are definitely worth the work—crunchy and savory.
And so now we are waiting, waiting for the mountains of peppers and tomatoes our plants will, hopefully, produce. The eight pepper cultivars and six tomato cultivars we decided to grow are forming as I type and getting ready to be dried and canned into sauces, salsas and pastes. I did a practice round of canning with the wonderful rhubarb from my mother-in-law’s garden. It looks absolutely beautiful, all pink and green in the pretty jars on the counter. I call it “botulism ‘barb” since I’m pretty sure I both sterilized and processed it wrong. We won’t be eating it. And I will be disposing of it once I get over the work gone wrong. I stewed another pot of rhubarb and put it in the freezer for insurance. We’ll need some Rhubarbulous Cake in the cold and dark of January sans food borne illness. I’m thinking of a round white later cake with a rhubarb glaze. But, the oven experiments won’t start until the temperature is at least below 80. So we wait and we monitor the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants (my babies), corn and cucumbers daily in anticipation of the first harvest. I check them even more eagerly than I check the mail for my Bon Appétit. In the meantime, the zucchini, the bundles of basil and cilantro and other herbs, the cabbage, the last of the broccoli, and some early onions are calling on my resourcefulness for original meals each day. And of course, if we feel malnourished, we can leave our glasses out for a midnight snack of earwig smoothies.