I’ll Make My Garden Grow

So there I am, three pairs of gardening gloves already too muddy to use, surrounded by flats of tomato, lettuce, eggplant, cabbage and leek “starts,” a paper bag full of seed packets and my gardening bag, and I think, “this may be the last year I can do this.”

Gardening is hard, and at some point I’ll have to stop. At some point bending over will make my back ache too much, or my knees won’t be able to take it. Over twenty years ago, when we rented a rototiller for our first vegetable garden, it never occurred to me that my body would ever feel “old.” And, really, mine doesn’t feel so old. But I turned 60 this summer, and that how-can-I-do-this-again feeling really hit hard.

Then there’s the emotional turmoil that goes along with gardening. You put in all that work, and then it rains too much, or too little, or a blight wipes out your tomatoes, or the rabbits manage to get through your garden fence. I do not find little bunnies cute. I look on them as destroyers of produce.

So let’s see. This year, first there was a lot of rain, and the garden was infested with slugs. We killed hundreds during May and June. Then in July it stopped raining. I do have a sprinkler system for the vegetable garden, but it was broken, and the guy who was supposed to fix it – well he just got around to putting in the new heads week. (My garden has evolved and grown over the years, and we now have raised beds surrounded by a beautiful fence to keep out those obnoxious deer.) By the second week of July, the leaves of several of my tomato plants started turning yellow and brown. I’d be gone all week and the temperature was in the 80s and 90s. Then something started nibbling at my eggplants and strawberries. The first several ripening tomatoes were savaged during the night by something that was able to get through the chicken wire that double guards on the bottom of the fence. I thought I’d have maybe 15 tomatoes. My brussel sprouts didn’t sprout.

Then, oh then, suddenly there was produce — more than I can possibly use. We had peas, string beans, carrots, onions, cabbage, and kirbys. There will be lots of peppers. I will string and dry the cayenne! So far I’ve made six jars of brine pickles (using some equipment my wonderful kids gave me for my birthday). This morning, before the deluge, I picked a colander full of cherry tomatoes and made a sauce with fresh peppers, onion, parsley, garlic and basil from the garden. I’ll use it later this week. For dinner I made stuffed cabbage, kapushnik as my grandmother said in Yiddish, with cabbage I had just picked.

So if you ask me right now if I’m planning on a vegetable garden next year, the answer is yes. Right now I am basking in the glow of a blue plastic gardening basket filled to the brim with tomatoes ready to be canned. I wish I had the optimism of Barbara Grufferman, the author of The Best of Everything After Fifty. She’s about five years younger than I am, but she looks at the birthday numbers creeping up and truly has the reaction, “You can’t bring me down. Now, Yay!” In fact, take a look at her inaugural post for the AARP. She’s irrepressible and has a much better attitude than I do. It’s not that I obsess about age or feel depressed about getting older. The other day someone pointed out that on my FB profile I have the year I graduated from high school, so it only takes a bit of math to deduce that I’m 60. There, I said it again. I have no problem being sixty. I’m not about to doctor my LinkedIn and not list jobs and positions so someone might think I’m 50 or 45. I just that I fear that one day I’ll wake up and I’ll feel old, too old to manage a vegetable garden.

So here’s a few questions to consider. Let me know how you feel in your comments — and notice that I’m using a new commenting system that doesn’t make me “moderate” them. You’ll have to sign in if you’ve never used Livefyre, but many bloggers use this commenting system. Let me know what you think about this comment tool. Then I’m going to give a few recipes, so stick around.

1. Do you “feel” old? If so, what makes you feel old?

2. Do you “feel” the same way you always did, and get surprised when you see yourself in the mirror or a photo? (That’s what happens to me.)

3. Any suggestions for aging with grace?

OK. So now for the recipes:

Tomato Sauce from Cherry Tomatoes

4 quarts cherry tomatoes (red and yellow)

2 sweet banana peppers

1 green bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1 cayenne pepper

1 small red onion

1 small white onion

1 small yellow onion

handful of parsley (about ½ cup chopped)

handful of basil (about ½ cup chopped)

three cloves garlic

Wash and de-stem the tomatoes. Put them in an uncovered pot with about 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, chop up everything else. When the tomatoes are soft, add everything else. If you add salt to things, add salt. Keep on a low flame until the sauce has boiled down and is thick. This might take an hour.

Yield: about a quart of sauce, maybe a bit more. Right now mine is in a container in the refrigerator. I might do a hot-bath canning and can it, but most likely I’ll serve it over spinach pasta in a day or two. The yellow tomatoes make the sauce low acid. The cayenne gives it a bit of a bight.


Kapushnik (Stuffed Cabbage)

How my grandmother made it, or, at least, how my mother made it.

1 lb chopped meat

¼ cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

1 tsp nutmeg

1 small green cabbage

1 cup ketchup

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup raisins

½ cup lemon juice

Mix the chopped meat with the egg, breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Divide into eight portions. Steam enough cabbage leaves so that you can wrap each portion of meat. Put into a covered casserole. Put ½ cup of liquid from steamed cabbage at the bottom. Add lemon juice. Cover with ketchup. Sprinkle brown sugar on the top. Sprinkle raisins. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes. Serve on top of rice or pasta.