Embalming Mom: Essays in Life,

From: "We Eat the Earth"

In the greenhouse tomatoes climbed and blazoned out of herbal beds; Belgian endive thickened its pallor inside upended terra cotta pots. Cucumber vines tickled their way through seedling lettuce and early radishes in the hothouse frames. Every year there were two sorts each of green beans, onions, spinach, peas (petit first and then English), cabbage and carrots. There were garlic, scallions, turnips, cauliflower, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, catnip, asparagus. We helped bag the potatoes and box the apples that lasted through the winter. Mr. Ashley braided the onions and the garlic. I went to school to the garden and I learned (ignorant child of Arizona!) that that black slash on a potato is the wound of a pitchfork. I learned how to put my foot on the edge of a spade, drive it straight so as not to hit the side of a leek, pull straight up, slice off the tops and and make vichysoisse (which the boys learned to call swishy-swodge). I canned peas. I put up a hundred pints of jam-strawberry, loganberry, gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant. We bought a freezer, and I learned how to lay raspberries on a cookie sheet and bag them hard as marbles. I stewed and froze tomatoes. I scalloped and froze potatoes. We got a dog and cats, then rabbits and a goat. The dog and cats ate table scrap and the rabbits and goats digested the peels and husks of Mr. Ashley's bounty. I tried making elderberry wine (not much good). I made rhubarb tarts (superb). I dug and grated fresh horseradish. I dried mushrooms from the cow-rich field next door.

I have no vocabulary for those tastes. "Vine-ripened" is merest adspeak for a tomato's seeded juice, warm as the palm of a hand. A carrot resists your tug, hugging the spring earth, and breaks sweet under grit. A bean snaps sharp on the teeth but asparagus yields with a soft thock. A potato just dug and boiled has the texture of hot snow. The half of the apple that hasn't rotted on the ground bites back with a tartness just this side of wine. Once a Belgian visitor to whom I served Stew Gaston cried, "On mange de la terre ici!" and I thought: we eat from the earth, but the other translation feels also true: we eat the earth.

© Janet Burroway. All Rights Reserved.