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Posts Tagged ‘seed’

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I was heading to the blackberry field at my favorite farm recently when I heard the old iron gate above swinging in the wind. It opened with an awkward squeak, then graduated to rich middle notes, then closed to a low baritone, jabbing its voice through the clear day and green landscape.

A 360-degree view of the August farm showed spring asparagus gone to seed and a few weeks off from another appearance, ripe blackberries, raspberries, corn, squash, and more crops beyond. I stood in the middle of LIFE, in exhilaration and exultation.

But the thing is, a farm isn’t a still frame of lush beauty. It’s hundreds of still frames that make up a continuous feature. A farmer knows that, but it just occurred to me that day when the gate whined back and forth, open and shut. A farm is the whole life cycle. It is both lovers’ bed and deathbed, nursery and graveyard.

In spring, the farm is fragile and palest green, a greenhouse full of teeny shoots a few weeks off from being planted because the soil is still too cold.

In late spring and early summer, it’s stretching its legs, testing boundaries, getting cheeky and rosy.

Now, in high summer, the farm is saturated with sun and rain and sugar and bite and intense color. Mid-life is when everything shines and bursts. Corn kernels pop when a fingernail is pressed into them. A ripe melon, at a single, infinitesimally small piercing, splits ahead of the blade wide open with a CRACK on the kitchen counter. Little potatoes dug from dusty soil are washed and roasted, and at first bite their skins, loose from the flesh, snap.

But as the crops lose the light bit by bit every day, that snap gives way to profound sweetness, softness, mellowness. Apples lose their sharp astringent bite, and are finally ready to pick. Tomatoes—boy, if the frost holds off and we can get tomatoes into September or even October, their flesh becomes deeper and richer than any July specimen. Green bell peppers turn lipstick red, and tender. Pumpkins become sweet and earthy. The farm is going to seed. It’s like everything is settling in to resignation, the innate knowing that the honeymoon is over, long over. But the farm is okay with it. We can actually taste that it’s okay with it.

Late Summer into Fall the farmer tosses spent squash and overripe tomatoes right into the fields to nourish them. Nothing is wasted; everything feeds everything else. Even the winter snow helps to fortify the soil. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s day, in the 19th century, farmers called fresh snow “poor man’s fertilizer,” and sent the kids out with the plow to turn it under the soil. They didn’t know why it did the job so well, but they knew it did. Now we know it’s full of nitrogen, the most essential ingredient for healthy plant development.

So in August, in the wind, that old gate was the farm’s mouthpiece, singing, reminding me of how it all works. The baby’s squeak to the young adult’s call to the elder’s hum, it’s all a song. It gets sung every year. We’re moving into the baritone hum. Enjoy time’s pendulum and the old iron gate swinging closed, and the flavors that come with them. I think they’re the best of the year.

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Last week I was driving through Lakewood, NJ when a sudden flash of inspiration hit, and in blinking lights it read Gelbstein’s Bakery. It’s not the first time this inspiration has hit me, but it was the first time in a long time that I could do anything about it. For last week, I was wearing pants instead of shorts.

Crickets, right?

A little explanation: Gelbstein’s is located in the heart of a city made up largely of Hasidic citizens. These folks are strict when it comes to clothing, and when it comes to women, the less skin showing, the better. So when I realized I had on pants, it was a green light to visit Gelbstein’s. I didn’t want to go while wearing shorts because it would be disrespectful, first off. And as it was, I had on my usual summer uniform of t shirt, flip flops and surfer bracelets. Any more and it would have looked like I was filming an episode of The Little Lost Shiksa.

Another reason why I went: I was in the mood for an adventure. Not sure about you, but every now and again, usually when life is going really well or when I need a life shake-up of sorts, I get a craving to do something loopy. This time was a life-is-going-really-well adventure craving. But whatever the motivation, I make myself follow it, and I’ve never regretted it. The bakery, its clientele and its products are unlike anything I am used to. Perfect.

Gelbstein’s has been in business for nearly 30 years. My dad used to rave about them, curling his arms out in front from the waist, and saying, ‘Rye breads like this!’ They still offer incredible ryes (although not as gigantic as hyped) but all of their breads are unique and fresh. You can taste it, honestly.

Something else that’s unique about Gelbstein’s: It’s a small place, yet most of their goods are right out on the floor in bins or packed on full sheet pans, accessible to our greedy little hands. I asked a shop girl who was refilling the bins where I could get a bag, and she pushed a bunch of huge plastic sleeves into my hands. It was Friday—Shabbos—which is punctuated by an evening meal at which two loaves of eggy, braided, pully breads are the stars, so she figured I was planning to load all of the bags to capacity. That Shabbos bread, challah, was featured in easily half a dozen ways, but I chose a few little loaf about the size of three stacked bagels and shaped almost like a brioche, with a lumpy knot on top. I’ve never seen loaves that size or shape. They were sprinkled with sesame and poppy seeds and yummy little bits of onion. I also took a couple of whole wheat buns topped with oats and a little whole wheat baguette.

The service made me smile because it felt as if I was in the city*; it was all business. They’re the type of place that is so busy that there’s not much time to discuss what grade your youngest is in now or whether the rain is supposed to stop on Wednesday or Thursday.

‘How many?’ barked the petite lady behind the counter. She picked up my bag, counted its contents, and dropped it back on the counter. Not placed—dropped.

When I got home, I took the shot above and then pulled off that challah’s fat knot and gobbled it up. Then I sliced the roll in half, loaded it with wild salmon that I mixed a little mayo and some capers into, and ate that, too.

A loopy excursion that ends with a great lunch is my idea of the perfect adventure.

*I know everyone means something different when they say ‘the city’. In north and central New Jersey, we means New York. When South Jersey says it, they mean Philly.

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I have always envied people who have ancient apple trees or wild blackberries or man, Kadota fig trees growing on their property. Not everyone shares my quirky sensibilities (something that’s been pointed out to me regularly all of my life), and I know, it’s all available at the supermarket. But I love the idea of having my own fruit there for the taking. Imagine being able to go outside and pick it whenever you want! It doesn’t even really matter what it is. Something I planted would be fine, but even better is something that just happens to be growing right out there on its own.

When spring arrived this year, my first in my new place, I was so excited to discover I have a crab apple tree. I recognized its white-pink blossoms, so similar to its larger cousin’s, on the branches that drape over the balcony of my second-floor back porch.

Yes, crab apples are edible. They need more sugar than their sweeter cousins, and I’ll admit making jam from them isn’t easy. Those little pits are the size of sesame seeds and are a bear to remove. But the jam, musky and mellow, is worth it to me. Besides being free for the taking, the apples are also pesticide free; the tree grows along a neglected border between two properties as well as two towns. Lastly, even if the branches reached the other porches (which they don’t), it’s doubtful anyone will be fighting the eccentric little chick on the second floor for dibs on wild fruit. I think it’s safe to say it’s mine. In late summer I’ll open the door of my porch and stay cool while the fruit bubbles on top of my prehistoric Kenmore. I was all ready to wait.

But then the universe lobbed me another surprise. A few days ago I was craving fruit. It was 4ish and we all get draggy and sweet toothy around then. Now, my favorite new thing is spooning vanilla yogurt over whatever fruit’s in season. Had the yogurt; didn’t have the fruit. I had even eaten up all of the dried fruit I had left over from Christmas. (Okay, I know, I need to go shopping.) I pouted and looked out my dining room window at the tree branches that stretched across the other side of my back porch. But along with being green and leafy, they also had little red and purple splotches. Wait, why would crab apples be ripe in June?

They weren’t. Growing right alongside the crab apple tree was a wild mulberry tree, a delicately sweet relative of the fig. I pulled a bowl out of my cupboard, picked a few handfuls of ripe mulberries off the branches, plopped some yogurt on top, and gobbled it all up.

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