THE LOCAVORES IN OUR MIDST greet the month of August with a collective awareness that the mission intensifies now. Unlike giggling through the strawberries of June or noshing on the peaches of July — we begin genuine farm-to-kitchen work when the peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes ripen. These culinary staples of the Nightshade family inspire cooking, canning, pickling, and preserving. They will help feed our families through the seasons ahead.
The Indian Creek news desk is pushing Nightshades this week, so that is the story we’re running. But you can still get the whole rainbow of goodies here on the farm; and, if you are obsessing about one particular item, you can get real-time advice by ringing the stand at (607) 273-9544.
They are a nomadic lot, the Nightshades, and they have migrated up the hill from last year’s plot. Growing on our tippy-toppest plateau, they await you at the end of your hike or drive, a third of a mile from the stand. Why did they move?
It is just the way of things. Certain crops “rotate,” a key practice in polyculture, which can minimize plant disease and benefit the soil. Of course you can be forgiven for not knowing many farm-geek facts; but, this one is not to be ignored.
Yes, the Nightshades keep moving. They migrate year after year on the long journey toward their ultimate destination — your belly. The final, pivotal stage is now, when they must get picked. What happens to a tomato when it dangles too long, idling on the vine with no hope of an eater?
We might ask the brilliant minds of the past who have cogitated on idleness. The Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne, inspiration to Emerson, Asimov, and Shakespeare, cautioned stridently:
As we see some grounds that have long lain idle and untilled, when grown rich and fertile by rest, to abound with and spend their virtue in the product of innumerable sorts of weeds and wild herbs that are unprofitable, and that to make them perform their true office, we are to cultivate and prepare them for such seeds as are proper for our service…
…so it is with minds, which if not applied to some certain study that may fix and restrain them, run into a thousand extravagances, eternally roving here and there in the vague expanse of the imagination… The soul that has no established aim loses itself, for, as it is said, ‘He who lives everywhere, lives nowhere.’
Was there ever a more dreary thought than a tomato with no soul who lives nowhere? Maybe you have met one at the supermarket.
It gets worse. In the 18th-century, Mary Wollstonecraft railed against idleness with the same poignancy that she pioneered women’s rights. Quite incidentally, she was the maternal grandmother of Frankenstein — did you know that we have a machine called ‘Frankenmower’ right here on the farm? But we digress, as idle minds will do. Back to business:
Idleness, rather than ill-nature, gives birth to scandal… and that puerile scrupulosity about trifles incompatible with an enlarged plan of usefulness, and with the basis of all moral principles — respect for the virtues which are not merely the virtues of convention.
Puerile scrupulosity?! Not THAT! It is the very antithesis of our work here. We are endeavoring to raise scandal-free eggplants and big-minded peppers who see the “enlarged plan” — becoming yummy in your tummy.
All you have to do is pick them. But wait, do you require one final nudge? Perhaps a message of inspiration? Here is a nice one from the Dead White Men of Letters, in this case the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD):
For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
Don’t turn away, Dear Pickers! For the Nightshades have done their part, striving for months to size and sugar and spice. And don’t be vexed with us farmers, who stuck the plants in the ground and idly waited for something to happen. It is happening! Your moment has arrived… Pick! Eat! Repeat!
Well, if you are still with us after that snore of a sermon, you deserve a bonus. The first cider of the season is here! Obscure early bloomers have survived both the frost and the drought to produce the earliest cider EVER in these parts. We just pressed 25 gallons of tart crisp “Orchard Ambrosia.” Every mouthful is showing surprisingly sweet tones for the time of year. It’s truly good.