By Uta Brown
The asparagus is over and the lettuces are beginning to bolt, but there are still lots of sweet heads for picking. So far, I have not seen the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in my salad garden.
When I take people out to pick lettuce, or herbs, I have them pick June berries. These sweet and juicy berries are like small blueberries, and I planted them for bird food. The birds haven’t discovered how good they are yet, so we stop and taste a few. Everyone seems to like them. These June berries are on small bushes, but they belong to a family of plants that come in many sizes, from a small bush of three feet to a tree of sixty. Amelanchier. In Maryland we had a ten-foot tree that flowered every spring followed by these wonderful blue berries that the cardinals loved to eat.
The rhubarb is taking hold. I grew both Glaskin’s Perpetual and Victoria, the former doing much the better. If you want to grow rhubarb, the reds will not survive as well as the greens. The green varieties can take the heat. Keep the nitrogen levels high to encourage leaf growth. Since the leaves are supposedly poisonous, some people fear that animals might eat them and die. I’ve never seen an animal bother a rhubarb plant. They are, in fact, rather attractive and can be put among the other plants in the garden.
Both sweet and sour cherries produced this year. Most years we do not get a good crop of sweets, although this has changed for the better since Sam began using bumblebees as pollinators. (Sours are wind-pollinated.) The trees should last thirty years. I was told that in commercial production the cherries are harvested by shakers. So massive and disruptive are these shakers that the trees only last about seven years, since the roots are too badly disturbed to recover from year to year.
In France we ate whatever came out of the garden for our noonday and evening meals. That might be asparagus for two weeks, and peas for two weeks and beans for two weeks. And artichokes!! Those fat globes Meme would boil just right and then make a luscious mustardy sauce for. People made tarts from their own pear and apple trees. In Brittany, everyone had an apple tree. What didn’t get thrown in a pie was made into raw cider. Rather than a class of sherry that might have been served if you were in England, the typical offering on an afternoon visit was cider, served in a large cup, usually faience, (which itself was locally made). This cider was often fermented by the host from his own apple trees. The quality varied widely.
A Chinese woman told me that her Chinese friends love American fruit because it is so flavorful. She told me that food in China is tasteless. “Too much chemical,” was her observation. I asked a Vietnamese customer shortly after that if food in Vietnam was still grown naturally, as it was when I lived in Southeast Asia over forty years ago. He said for the most part that it was, but more and more chemicals were being used. The food in Laos was, if anything, exceptionally tasty. We have lost much of the flavor of foods in our American diet also, and with the flavor the nutrition has also plummeted.
It is unimaginable that we used to eat only what we could produce or barter from our neighbors. Barter is alive and well, however, and will probably grow in the future. Because chickens eat stinkbugs, the sale of chickens will no doubt skyrocket. Small farms will proliferate, and family gardens will expand. This will create a knowledge of the food we eat as well as the person who produces it, and the exchange of food will become an entirely different story, a much more personal and intimate story. The quality of the food will increase and because it will be much fresher, it will also retain more vitamins. Most of us won’t reach food independence, but we might soon be eating something local with every dinner menu.