Every spring a few strawberry plants reemerge in the strawberry patch I’ve been attempting to cultivate the past five years. They are usually in sad shape, bedraggled and exhausted by the long winter, their brave roots having barely survived. Those tattered shoots produce a handful of tattered flowers, and, consequently, a handful of tattered berries. So, every year I replant the patch, certain that with enough care, I will get everyone to come back strong the following spring.
After last year’s drought, this spring NOTHING emerged. No strawberries, no asparagus, not even my mint patch, which I got my replacement plants from a friend with a thriving patch, and the new strawberry shoots are by far the most prolific variety I’ve ever grown. Each plant sports three or four nodding blossoms at a time, which, seemingly overnight, turn to fruit, and are quickly replaced by new flowers. It’s been glorious after so much failure.
You might think this would result in an abundance of berries for our table, but you’d be wrong. As soon as one of the berries turns from green to whitish-pink, it is plucked from its cradle of leaves by the chubby fingers of a child who sweetly asks, “Mama, can I eat this?”
No matter how many times I encourage them to wait for the berries to ripen so they will be toothsome and sweet instead of hard and sour, the temptation is too great. And, no matter how often I say: “It won’t taste good, you won’t like it,” they proceed to prove me wrong by popping the unripe pebble of fruit into their mouths and beaming with glee.
The allure of the sugar snap peas also proves to be too great for forbearance. The very moment a tiny triangle of peapod pokes from between the petals of the pea flower, it is snapped off and eaten. I planted a lot of peas this spring because in seasons past there were never enough to go around. But, it turns out, when the pods are eaten before they are even bite-sized, it doesn’t matter how many rows you’ve planted — there still won’t be enough.
On the other hand, the abundance of cabbage ready to harvest is not disappearing at the same rapid rate. This year I tried out a new variety — napa cabbage — which ripens much more quickly than traditional varieties. I also experimented with planting it in raised beds made out of repurposed pallets. The raised beds are awesome, and the napa cabbage, as projected, is prolific and fast-growing, but the result is more cabbage than one family could ever eat. I’ve been sneaking it into nearly every dish served for the last two weeks, and there’s still a frightening amount left. This week’s task is to convert as much of it as I can into sauerkraut and kimchi, but I lack a fermentation vessel big enough to truly solve the cabbage problem. Much to my family’s chagrin, omelets, pasta dishes, even our traditional Friday night pizza, will continue to be sprinkled with the finely minced leaves for the foreseeable future.
And so it will be, as it has always been, feast and famine in equal measures; a few tastes of imagined sweetness in the form of unripened berries and peas, and enough cabbage to blanket a small village if cabbage indeed made good blankets. Next, it is sure to be an abundance of zucchini but no tomatoes, cucumbers but no beans, cauliflower but no carrots, or whatever incarnation of this principle the weather allows during July and August.
I will remain thankful, in any case. Fresh from the garden, sun-kissed and still a touch dusty, the fruits of the soil are a gift, even if they aren’t quite the gift we’d hoped to receive. When winter arrives, we will have eaten our fill, and memories of the summer’s riches will brighten the long evenings. Plus, we’ll be happily enjoying a supper that no longer requires the addition of cabbage.
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