The Insistence of Abundance

I left the house three nights ago after picking something like five pounds of tomatoes over the previous couple of days. No big deal. Brought a few with me, distributed a few more, left a couple in a bowl on the counter.

A day and a half later when I returned, there were thirty pounds ripe in the gardens.

Last Friday and Saturday, I harvested eggplant. There are six bushes out there–not a lot, really. I never expect too much of eggplant in such a northerly clime. Except that this year, the plants are over three feet tall and about as wide–and there were forty good-sized fruits ready to go–and that’s in addition to the dozen or so I’d previously picked, and the dozens and dozens more still sizing up on the monstrous plants.

I congratulated myself when I used up half on a pickled Italian eggplant recipe and gifted most of the rest to a thankful friend.

And then I picked twenty more yesterday. My chiles are likewise enormous and exploding with fruit despite having been feasted on by rabbits every time they grew a new set of leaves this spring (that is, until the neighbor’s cat demonstrated its place in the food chain), and then there’s the summer squash…well, that’s definitely living up to the cliché.

The only reason I haven’t resorted to scouting for open car windows or unattended porches late at night is because the varieties I grow are unusual enough to make the culprit obvious. And god knows what I’d get back in addition to my squash–probably a Sidump’r full of zucchini secreted in my garage when I went on an errand.

It’d turn into something like the cucumber war a fellow farmers market vendor and I had going a couple of years ago. I didn’t dare leave my stand for fear I’d end up with fifty more cukes than I’d brought–and I’d brought a LOT. There’s more than one reason it pays to check out what varieties your fellow farmers are bringing to market. You start to think they’re breeding in the baskets–but when the children look nothing like the parent–you know something unsavory is going on…

This is the time of year when food gets pushy. You can’t turn around without tripping over a basket of peppers or a lug of peaches, and the house and gardens are lush with the insistent perfume of perfectly ripe produce–produce that, in its perfection, cries out, “Preserve me now or lose me forever!”

How can you resist?

And yet how can you give every peach, every pepper, every luscious tomato and milky ear of corn its due? How can you tuck every last little pickle in the brine when every time you turn around, there are ten more crying on the vines?

And then, just as you are looking around at the empty boxes and bushels and nodding and thinking you’ve got on top of the work at last, you turn around to see that one of the kids (kids! yes–you have them, don’t you remember?–and friends, too–who, you imagine, are leisurely chatting with your other friends on their lovely, breezy deck overlooking the lake, admiring their automatically-watered flower gardens, and asking after you before one of them makes that little circle next to their temple and they all laugh and forget you)–one of the kids left the back door open again, and a cooler of green beans and a basket of muskmelons (already attracting fruit flies!) have somehow snuck in to demand your immediate attention.

Your mother’s and grandmothers’ voices start to lecture in your brain–waste not, want not!–and something about starving children in China.

You start to feel faint and realize that you yourself haven’t had a bite to eat all day because eating now might take time from preserving all this food to eat then (whenever then is–you imagine yourself about five months from now splayed out on the couch with a pot of tea, a plate of scones, and a jar of that peach preserves now bubbling on the stovetop–perusing next year’s seed catalogs for ever-more productive varieties).

ENOUGH.

Go fix yourself a snack–maybe a dollop of that preserves out of the pot and a few musty crackers from the cupboard (if you can get to it)–whatever you can scrape up in a moment or two. Walk away from the pots and the kettles and the canners and the crates of insistent abundance.

Go outside into late summer’s luminous sunshine and lie on the hammock. Or the grass. Or sit in a deck chair. A glass of chilled white wine will do you good. Eat a few bites. Breathe in–taste air that is not clouded with endless steam and the cooking odors of every fruit and vegetable in existence.

Relax.

Relax a little more.

Now get up, take one more breath–this one of resolve–and get back inside and scrub out that crock.

The cucumbers are breeding again.

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