farm cookin’

by bam

some mornings at the farmer’s market i get so hungry sifting through the dew-soaked bins of what’s just been picked, packed, bounced up the highway, i could sit right down and feast.

so far, seeing as i never bring a fork, i haven’t done so.

oh, i might nibble at a tip of asparagus, or pop a blueberry. but mostly i start dreaming. i concoct huge farm menus in my head. come up with ways to use every single green, and every single root, all at one sitting sometimes.

it is all so fresh, so spilling with what the good Lord intended, it feels like there should be some addendum commandment. a little asterisk. a footnote. thou shalt eat what is of the earth, as is.

taste the holy goodness that is the alchemy of soil and rain and sunshine. fill your every corpuscle. do honor to the creation that is you, and the creation that is earth.

silly as it sounds, that’s the way it feels to me. closest thing to communion i’ve ever slipped between my lips not at the altar rail.

it does feel sacred, what my farmer henry coddles from the earth down in congerville, in the mackinaw river valley where the land rolls in hills, and country roads make way for century-old oaks, not the way they do it here in the cities, where trees are felled willy-nilly, in the name of someone’s idea of progress. or just the easy way out.

down where henry grows, i suspect there are no easy ways out. and if there are, henry doesn’t take them. henry seems to me the noblest farmer. henry seems a farmer other farmers might learn from. the way cezanne learned from pissarro. the way those two dabbed paint on canvas and critics called it impressionism, and a whole new art was born.

yep, when i eat what henry grows it all feels holy. and for someone who has known her share of struggles with what i put between my lips, that, people, is nothing short of a praise-the-Lord, first-order miracle. a healing. not quite a dunking in the river, maybe. not a quaking in the aisles.

just a simple saturday supper, made of henry’s offerings, that goes down easy. that goes down with almighty joy.

i could eat henry’s mounds of earth-rich bounty 365 days a year, and snatch a bonus day, too, in leap years. if i had the knack and the time and the extra freezer to do so, i’d figure out a way to make that happen. as is, i make the most of henry’s growing months. and then i’ll pine all winter.

every saturday, when he pulls up his truck to the parking lot behind a chain hotel, wedged in by train tracks to the west and a research park to the north, not a mile-and-a-half from where i sleep, i am not yet rolling out of bed. it is 4 a.m., and he, like all the other farmers, is keeping farmer hours, is laying out his weekly harvest before the rooster crows good morning.

crate upon crate is hoisted, lifted, stacked. a veritable green grocer takes the slot that, come monday morning, will merely hold a chevy or a honda, key turned counter-clockwise, slipped into park.

i won’t be long. even though it’s the one morning i could sleep to, well, nine, i won’t. not even close.

henry’s amazing wall of lettuces, that’s what he calls the stretch that takes up as much room as probably five honda civics, henry’s wall is calling me.

oh, people, i wish and pray you too could taste what henry grows. i hope and pray there is a farmer close to you who grows like henry grows.

i never knew, not until henry, that a mesclun mix could taste just like a symphony sounds: full of varied notes, some spicy, some sweet. all with crunch and texture. some buttery soft. some ruffly, melt-in-your-mouthable. some sturdy little leaves, leaves with a backbone, i tell you. leaves with heft. oh, and charming little flowers too. right in with all the leaves. it is art in a bag, believe me.

i take home my bags of greens i’ve never cooked before. heck, sometimes not seen before. shiso leaves. baby choi. pea sprouts. greens with japanese names i couldn’t spell. not without a dictionary, anyway.

i take home scallions so fat and bulbous and pristine white, once you rinse the mud off, you’d swear they were an onion on a leash. nothing like the anemic skinny scallions in the grocery store, the ones that barely have a bump down where the green fades to white and the bulb is supposed to be.

on a really fine saturday night, like the one i had this weekend, i settle in the kitchen a good hour before i’m hungry. just to get my hands on all the goods that henry grew. just to invent ways to stir-fry this, grill that.

this week, it was the ruby-veined chard that got me going. i sliced a big fat onion, set it sizzling. rinsed, rough-chopped the chard, tossed it on the sizzled onions. poured a stream of fine balsamic vinegar, a syrupy blood-red drizzle from a bottle brought home from italy back before the aftermath of shoe bombs meant you couldn’t carry on a plane a balsamic vinegar that you couldn’t bear to leave behind.

i made such a mess of garden things–grilled asparagus, grilled onions, grilled portabello mushrooms. roasted baby beets, drizzled, again, with balsamic vinegar. sprinkled with thyme from henry’s sister, and sea salt, like my brother david taught me. i made a heaping salad. a heaping skillet of chard, and then, because it was there, chinese cabbage, too.

to pull it all together, i opened up a carton of farm-plucked eggs, duck and chicken and bantam, too, the hand-lettered carton label tells me. i scrambled them all up with the scallions.

and then i called the boys. oh, i wish i’d had a clanging dinner bell, the kind you find just outside a farmhouse door. instead, i used my lungs. they got the message. they came loping down for supper.

i cannot tell you they were quite as tickled by my grilled-wilted-scrambled feast. but i didn’t much notice. i was busy reaching for my fork.

as we all bowed heads, joined hands to say our grace, i thanked the Lord almighty for the miracle of henry and his fields, for the old truck that makes the trip, and for my great good fortune being fed, at last, at long last, through and through.

if only i’d known henry long, long ago. i do believe i’ve been hungry for what henry grows for years and years and years. and now, finally, i am sated.

how do you like to eat in summer time? do you find your produce bin spilling with things you can’t help but buy, and can’t eat fast enough? do you have a henry who harvests just for you? who fills your soul as much as your tummy?
by the way, if i had a recipe for my farm-scramble-heap-o-roots-and-greens, i’d share it. but i pretty much cook by heart when it comes to saturday farm suppers….