Over the years I have disrespected and misused the radish. I’ve taken him for granted is the thing. And not just one radish, either, but all of radish-kind. Take that Daikon that I shacked up with a few years ago. Oh, he was everything that I could hope for at first. They all are. They come up quickly and reliably and way ahead of anything else in the spring. I plucked out the first one when it was no bigger than a carrot, and I took a picture of my hand holding him up against a clear, blue sky. The first harvest of the year! I shredded him onto a salad and took a picture of that and posted it on my blog. I’ll admit it. It was a particularly satisfying salad. But after that, things went down hill.
The thing about Daikon is, once you’ve won his heart, it’s hard to figure out what to do with him. The thrill, as it turns out, is all in the chase. I tried to cook it - yuck. I tried to lacto-ferment it - double yuck. Short of entering into couples therapy, at that point, there was nothing I could do. So I did nothing. I didn’t even bother to pull him up out of the ground anymore. He just stayed there in my garden, getting bigger and bigger, like some freeloader that asked to stay for one night and whom it takes an act of congress, after that, to evict from the couch. When I finally managed to get myself free of him he was as tall as a six-year-old and as big around as my leg.
So you might think that I have learned my lesson with radishes But I had a fling with some Easter egg types last year that, I’ll admit, was fun. So when seed catalog time rolled around again this year and I saw a glossy, full color photo of D’Avignon, all smooth, and red and elongated… Well. You know how it is.
So I made my move, and D’Avignon came to my first garden party of the year. And he did his thing. He showed up. He came up quickly. He was a beautiful color. He was a little more twisted than he had been in the catalog photo, but to each his own. I doted on him. I adored him. I sliced him onto a salad and savored the crisp, sharpness in my mouth. And then?
It’s the same old story. He’s like the guy that looks sexy and strong in uniform, but who, once he gets into the civilian world, turns up for your first date in black socks and plaid shorts.
The thing about Radish is that he’s just so limited. He does one thing in the garden and one thing in the kitchen. He dresses up a salad - he adds kick and color - but so what? You can’t cook him or preserve him. I suppose you could pickle him. But, well, yuck.
I feel guilty. The thing is, by the time spring begins to arrive, I want a garden rendezvous so badly that I’m willing to fall in love with the first vegetable that comes along, and that’s where Radish comes in. He validates me. He reminds me that I am a grower. He proves my worth. See what I can do!!! And don’t get me wrong. That first encounter with him is good. I mean, it’s really good, and every year I imagine that I’ll want to continue this way forever. But after the first blush of love wears off and reality sets in, Radish is so far ahead of the spring salad greens that I simply run out of use for him. I mean, why would I buy salad greens when I can grow them? Just for Radish? I have to be honest. My feelings for Radish don’t run that deep.
This is partly because not too long after that first tryst, the pea plants really start to take off. All that green, those curly tendrils and delicate white blossoms turn a girl’s head. And before you know it, spinach and chard, who were just babies, just kids the last time I noticed them, have grown up right before my eyes, handsome and strong. And one day - be still my heart - right next to the radishes and beets, rubbing shoulders with the yet-to-bloom nasturtiums, there is broccoli.
He’s bigger than Radish. Way bigger. He’s stronger. Greener. Wider. Bolder. He’s solid, and full of promise and nutrition. Raw for salads, steamed plain, cooked into casseroles and stir frys…and I can’t help myself. My visits to Radish, who continues to curl and twist up out of the ground and to blush an embarrassing hot pink every time he sees me, become visits to his neighbor broccoli. Before I know it, I’m plucking the pale green worms off of broccoli’s leaves and stalks and fondling around for evidence that he’s beginning to make a head.
All my plans for succession planting Radish and for feasting on salads are gone. The first of May approaches and my mind starts to wander to the heirloom tomatoes and peppers that are hardened off and waiting patiently on the deck. And the eggplants - my gosh, the eggplants - who never cease to set my heart aflutter. There are beans and squashes and cucumbers and melons, and before I know it, I’ve done it to him again. I’ve made Mr. Radish into Mr. Convenient, and he’s neither convenient, nor interesting, anymore.
I know he minds it. I know it has to hurt. I also know that next spring, once again, Radish and I will have our moment. Because despite all of our trials and tribulations, I can’t help but love a guy that’ll give a gardener so much space.
So Radish? Are you reading this? I hope so.
Same time next year, babe.
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A note from The Vegetable Lover:
Is the novel “gritty”?
Yes and No.
There is no dirt to speak of. There are no farms, no animals, and no gardens. No food takes center stage. But it’s a story about finding the courage to really see yourself, to own up to what you’ve done, and to accept who you have become because of it. I don’t know about you, but I think that may be the gutsiest, grittiest, and scariest thing that anybody can do. For more information visit my web site.