Yesterday a friend in my hometown of Medway, Ohio, emailed me to catch up a little on our lives. She lamented how she felt poor for not having a garden this year to walk out to and gather vegetables. I thought about that feeling – feeling poor at not having a garden.
No doubt, that is what drove my mother to plan her gardens even when she couldn’t work them herself. Gardens to her generation meant more than just some nice corn or tomatoes on the table come picnic time. They were months of food, a kind of living security blanket for the family. You weren’t poor if you had food.
Then, I felt poor. Realizing I would never share the joy and security of my mother’s shared gardens was depressing. This year would be one without those gardens for a number of family and friends.
Friends Bob and MaryAnn do have gardens though, raised beds that are thriving this summer. When they shared large, sweet-spicy Burpee Supersteak tomatoes with us, the likes of which I had never tasted, I felt relieved of some of my poorness. The tomatoes were refreshing. But that is not enough of a word for it. They felt good going down and then some.
It seemed I couldn’t get enough of them. Ice cold, they soothed something deep down like a medicine being poured on a wound. Then, I realized the sweet, soothing taste and the feeling in the pit of my stomach were things I had once read about.
James Lewis MacFarlane, a soldier from the Great War, was on his way to a slow death by means of shrapnel and rampant infection. Only by walking away from the one place he felt he had a right to, did he save his life.
He walked to the Pacific Ocean, found the Bee Master, the gardens and the tomatoes. The story is intriguing; it is an old story, set in a time before mine or my mother’s, yet it speaks of not only disaster but man’s humanity and fellow feeling, which spilled forth like the Madonna lilies in the east garden. It endures down to this day.
Gene Stratton-Porter wrote Keeper of the Bees in 1925. Jamie MacFarlane, the main character, found the tomatoes about half way through the book. He described them as “peculiarly satisfying.” As he mused, “It slid down his throat; it felt wonderful … it left an urgent invitation for more.”
Even though the lack of a garden can bring on a feeling of being poor, it is the friends we have that enriches our lives. Those friends share, tomatoes or whatever they have, much like the book’s characters, Jamie and Little Scout.
When all is said and done, poor is but a moment until friends meet or a garden can be planted again.
Mom’s Stewed Tomatoes With Zucchini
3 fresh zucchini, each about 7 inches long
4 large fresh tomatoes
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water, optional
Wash zucchini, cut off blossom ends, slice into 1-inch pieces. Place in 3-quart saucepan.
Slip tomato peels off and core out stem end. Discard most of the seeds, if desired. Chop the tomatoes into the pan. If tomatoes have little juice, add water. Add butter and cook over medium heat until just tender.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Mom’s note as printed in Together We Share (Morris Co., 2000):
“I ate stewed tomatoes my grandmother prepared. She put in pieces of toasted bread to make it more filling. I prefer the zucchini. From our garden, I usually use German Queen or Mr. Stripey tomatoes, which are nice and meaty, with few seeds.”