On May 29, 2008 this story appeared in the Falmouth Bulletin: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen"
Salad recipe adds some zing to spring
For years I have had what I call a “black thumb”. No magic touch with vegetation, just a rotten rather than green thumb. Oh, I managed to keep a few house plants alive throughout the years. This I believe happened not because I was trying. By chance, the only place in my apartment with sun was a large window with an ample window sill. My technique of barely remembering to water the plants on occasion somehow helped too. However, now that I live in a house with a yard, I would like to imbue it with life. In the last couple of years, my sad attempts at planting seeds failed because I was always too impatient to learn the rules of gardening 101 or perhaps I just blocked it all out…
You see, Val has always had a very large, organic vegetable garden. The planning started in the winter when the seed catalogs would arrive in the mail. She would comb through them and choose the best seeds for her soil sometimes ordering various bugs and traps as well. Once they arrived in the mail, the seeds would be started in the basement under the grow light and her careful watch. As the seeds sprouted under the eerie purple light, we knew what our fate would be come spring time, after the last sign of frost.
The truck loads of seaweed arrived soon after the plants went into the ground. This would be used to mulch the entire garden, a task that seemed to take weeks in our young minds. Karyn manned the pitch fork and loaded up 5 gallon buckets for me and Ethan to haul down to Val’s location in the garden. We went up and down the sloping hill along the side of the house in the hot sun, until Val allowed us to take what seemed like a one minute break . The brown, moist seaweed got inside our shoes filling them with sand and slime mixed with sweaty feet. Yucky.
To my mother’s delight, sometimes we would have the pleasure of mulching with horse manure. We thought she was insane not knowing the virtues of the fertilizer. Karyn dressed in tall rubber boots and a bandana over her nose like Jesse James, continued to man the pitch fork while Ethan and I gagged as we hauled our buckets in the hot sun.
Times were really tough when the seaweed wasn’t as plentiful and Val didn’t score her horse manure. Instead of making lemons out of lemonade, Val made “manure tea”, a fertilizer out of our pet rabbit’s droppings. The recipe is as follows:
Fill ¼ of a five gallon bucket with rabbit or chicken manure
Top off bucket with water
Leave in the hot sun to “steep”
After 4-5 days pour the mixture over your crops.
If the wind blows just right, you can smell the sweet aroma of the tea from anywhere in the yard while it is steeping. Yummy.
The gardening trauma did not end with the mulching. A whole new phase of torture began with harvesting the crops. Raspberries proved to be especially gruesome. The wild, unruly and very thorny bush would slowly envelope me as I inched my way in to pick every last one. Even though it was best to wear long sleeves and pants as not to get my skin torn to shreds, a child never remembers to do that in July. Don't think for a second that I could have gotten away with leaving a few berries on the most interior of the sharp vines. Val always checked.
In spite of my memories of childhood gardening, I have been spoiled by the quality and taste of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and consumed at their peak. Luckily, I still reap the benefits of Val's garden. I no longer have to help with mulching as she plants a little less quantity and variety. Now, I know how fortunate I am when she says, "Do you want some tomatoes? Here's a bag, go and pick what you want." As for my own yard, I don't have enough time or room for a vegetable garden but you should check out my potted herbs on the deck.
The following recipe is a springtime favorite. Val's Aunt Viola, who was known for cooking and entertaining, made this often.
Aunt Viola's Special Salad and Dressing
1 large bag fresh baby spinach
1 large bag fresh salad greens
1 red onion, sliced thin
parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
homemade croutons (see recipe)
For the dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil
Wash and dry green and toss together in a large salad bowl. Arrange red onion rings over top of greens and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and croutons. Combine all ingredients for dressing and shake well. Dress salad and serve immediately.
5-6 slices day old French bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cube slices of bread. Toss cubed bread with butter. Spread bread onto a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with parsley, garlic powder and salt. Toast in oven for 5-10 minutes until browned on edges. Allow to cool before adding to salad.