Saturday, August 15, 2009

SUMMER RISKS AND SUMMER PLEASURES

Here we are suddenly in mid-August, with the first corn at the farmers' markets and the crabapples on the big tree in the front yard now pink-red and glowing like decorations on a Christmas tree.  I'm not ready for summer to be over, but already the re-entry to university classes is less than a month away.  And there's a little sad news: The tomato plants in the back yard are suffering from a blight that I'm told is related to potato blight.  It's carried by spores, they say, that float up from the ground.  The result is that although there's fruit, the leaves and branches are gradually turning brown and dead, so the plants are weaker and also very pathetic looking.   There's none of the lush green curtain of growing plants that is the usual mid-August view out the back door.  And by September I expect there will be no more tomatoes, for the plants have stopped growing and flowering.  Such a shame, for those late season tomatoes are always such a treat. 

How do farmers cope with this kind of unpredictability, with disease and drought and loss? How not to be anxious all the time if your livelihood depends on fickle weather and the interplay of bugs and disease?  Those of us who are not completely dependent on our gardens for our food and our survival, and who have a more urban-style expectation that we can control outcomes, are so remote from the realities of nature's cruel edge.  Maybe that's why we flinch at paying full price for the fruits of farmers' labours: because we're deluded and ignorant.  And let's face it, we don't really want to know how hard life is for other people.  Their health is our health, but we don't usually think of things that way.  We want to think of ourselves only, and to assume everyone else is fine...

Today I went to the weekly Saturday market at the Brickworks, here in Toronto.  It's an attractive place, with lots of farmer vendors and beautiful produce, especially at this time of year. As always there were people there with their dogs, many of them large, and an overwhelming number of them not well behaved.  There's something a little sick about dogs sticking their noses into food that's on display, drooling over it or sniffing it or whatever they do, and exploring the samples of elk, for example, set out on a table for customers.  Maybe I'm being too picky?  It's not the dogs that are the problem, it's the owners who don't take responsibility.  Now I'm sounding really grouchy!

My friend Dina tells me that at the large organic market in the Laurentians there's a big sign "interdit aux chiens".  What a good idea!

On another topic, a more inviting one, I was at Potz's store yesterday, "4-Life" in Kensington Market.  He carries local produce, labelled with the name of the farmer who grows it, as well as eggs and butter etc, and some frozen organic meat too, and is a great guy, always open to new ideas and people.  He had some long flat beans for sale that looked like sword beans, but weren't.  They were locally grown by a guy named Trevor, I think, who is also a chef.  Potz gave me a few and told me to grill them or cook them in a hot skillet.  

Later in the day some friends dropped by for a drink, so I heated a little olive oil in the cast-iron skillet and put the beans in, whole, pressing on them to scorch them a little on each side, a matter of several minutes.  A little fresh garlic from the garden, coarsely chopped, then went into the oil briefly.  I cut the beans crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, added the garlic, then sprinkled Malden salt on top.  They were great little tender green mouthfuls, ideal with the cold Kronenberg or white wine people were sipping.  If I find out the name of the beans, I'll add it into this post.  Meantime, keep an eye out for them.  Oiled and grilled they'd be great too.

While I was in Umbria I picked a large hatful (having brought no bag with me) of wild blackberries.  The last time I picked blackberries was ages ago, on Vancouver Island and on SaltSpring, when the kids were very small and I'd taken them to visit my then 103-year-old grandmother.  Blackberries are always a treat that you have to fight for a little, for the brambles scratch and leave you marked for a week or so.  (My ankles are still scarred from last week.)  

It's all worth it when you eat them fresh, popping them into your mouth one by one, or bake with them, for example as I did in Umbria:  I rolled out a rather butter-rich pastry (made with 00 Italian flour and one egg), put it on a baking sheet and sprinkled on chopped walnuts, then piled on a mound of blackberries.  The pastry was very soft.  I folded it up over the mounded berries leaving only a smallish opening at the top of the pile.  It baked for about half an hour at 400 and then needed another half hour to cool and settle into firmness.  

The stars were bright and the moon up as we cut into the crostata, another summer pleasure to savour in the moment, and to look back on with gratitude.


1 comment:

Morag Johnston said...

We've been thoroughly enjoying the crab apple tree this past while. And now the front yard too.