The joys and terrors of a home garden*

With the recent cabin fever, my wife began combing through seed catalogs in preparation to start a small garden this spring.  We fully intend to force our children to grow at least one item they consider edible so they can plant, cultivate and eventually consume the product of their own efforts.

For my son, this means we will be growing carrots and broccoli.  For my oldest daughter, it means we will have an abundance of radishes which she eats like candy.  I cannot for the life of me figure out where she acquired the taste.  My 10 year-old daughter is still lobbying over what her choice will be and is quite dismayed that you cannot actually grow pasta from the earth in its final form.  The wife is planning sweet corn, which I am anxiously awaiting, and I am still searching furiously for seedlings which will sprout the elusive Milky Way plant.

All this planning has reminded me of some of the best years of my youth when my family maintained a very respectable garden comprised of uniform rows of corn, onions, spinach, leaf lettuce, cucumbers and various herbs, among a variety other vegetables.  When harvest time came, we ate like kings, preparing salads from our very own garden.  I learned to love raw spinach and would contentedly eat lettuce leaves rolled up with just a touch of salt.  We made our own dill pickles from our own cucumbers and dill weed.  I enjoyed those pickles more than any I have ever paid money for simply because nothing is a good as the fruits of your own labor.

In times of a bumper crop, Mom and Pop would spend an entire weekend in the kitchen with the pressure cooker canning vegetables.  If one of us kids forgot and walked in, we were met with screams warning us of the dangers of a pressure cooker, followed by Pop flinging himself toward us to shield our young, innocent lives from certain death as if he were a secret service agent diving between the president and a would-be assassin.

During canning season, we literally thought our house was going to explode and if we were not killed instantly, we would die a slow and painful death after being impaled by high velocity carrots and green beans.

Even with the potential blast crater in our kitchen, I still loved our garden.  You would think all my enthusiasm over our self-grown produce would have given me a get-out-of-jail free card when I came across a home-grown item I found somewhat less than appealing.

Well, there were no get-out-of-jail free cards when it came to my Pop.  I remember well the summer when our showdown occurred and we locked horns over what I can only describe as the most hideous, twisted plant, bearing the most horrid and grotesque fruit known to man.

Of course, I am referring to cherry tomatoes.

At the age of ten I believed that cherry tomatoes were an acidic, seed filled symbol of everything evil in the world. My opinion today does not differ.  I was convinced that the Ayatollah of Iran, arguably the most evil person on the planet at the time, ate cherry tomatoes for pleasure and probably force fed them to imprisoned enemies of the state as torture.  I imagined hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent victims fighting an intense gag reflex as they attempted to swallow them whole so as to not allow one drop of that 9-volt-battery-tasting liquid to drench their palate.  I could imagine this because I experienced the same agony first hand.

Pop forced me to eat them.

I must inform you that I can only share this story now knowing that the statute of limitations has expired and my dear father, rest his soul, cannot be charge posthumously for what I still believe must be the most wide-spread form of child abuse known: taste bud abuse via vegetable.

It had come to a showdown across our dinner table as my mother and siblings were forced to bear witness to this horrible injustice.  They are probably still traumatized and sympathetic to my plight today.

Upon taking my first reluctant bite, I was greeted with a taste so unimaginable… so absolutely revolting that I immediately spat the singly chewed remnants upon my plate and screamed bloody murder as I grasped for anything that might be capable of pressure-washing the taste from my tongue.

Unfazed, my Pop simply looked at me and indicated that I would not leave the table until I had eaten every single cherry tomato on my plate.

Understanding the severity of the situation – that being the health and well-being of my tongue – I resolved that Pop and I would remain at the table for hours until he excused me without another cherry tomato being consumed.  Pop, however, was resolved that I would remain there by myself while he and the rest of the family went about their business.

The dinner concluded, my Pop got up and left and I sat there sobbing miserably.  He eventually returned and after careful negotiation, I was able to force down one tomato thereby freeing myself from my culinary captivity.

My first and last cherry tomato ever eaten was the one that I gagged down under my Pop’s watchful eye in the summer of 1980.  Thirty-five years later, I still cringe at the site of them.

Whatever you do, dear reader, please do not share this tale with my ten year old.  She might select them as her choice purely for the entertainment value.

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© Michael L. Collins

  • Originally published in the February 25, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press

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