Summer, fresh from the field

Straw hat, suspenders sure signs of quality produce, says Jim McGregor

I finished my second cob of corn and wiped the butter from my chin. There was nothing I could do about the dribble down the front of my shirt but I was home on my deck, not in some fancy restaurant. I didn’t really need the second piece of corn but I had made a second burger and the plate just didn’t looked balanced without the corn. However,  I didn’t take a second helping of coleslaw because I’m cutting back.

Corn on the cob is synonymous with summer. I bought this bunch from a truck on the side of the road, and fruit or vegetables bought at markets or roadside stands always taste better. Maybe it’s because we know they haven’t spent a week in a truck travelling from Mexico or Oregon or maybe it’s the hand painted signs shouting ‘Local’ or ‘Chilliwack’. Either way, we can imagine the farmer out in his field just after dawn picking the produce he has for sale this afternoon.

When we used to camp at Skaha Lake in Penticton, I always tried to be back in the campsite by four o’clock. A local farmer would drive through in an old van offering tomatoes and cucumbers or fresh peaches  to the campers. He always drew a crowd and everyone had cash ready when he showed up.

The farmer would tell his customers that he had picked them that day from his own field. We had no reason to dispute that fact. After all, he wore suspenders and a straw hat and his van had a faded picture of a farm barely visible on the door so we knew whatever he was selling was going to be ‘farm fresh.’

It’s refreshing to see a renewed interest in gardening. Gardening experts tell us that $50 in seeds and fertilizer can produce $1,250 worth of groceries purchased at a supermarket. Where else can you get that kind of return on your money or your time?  However, while most homeowners are willing to pop in a few annuals around the shrubs, the idea of a vegetable garden can be daunting. A vegetable garden requires commitment and it’s all too easy to run to the grocery store.

I didn’t plant as big a garden as usual this year. But the other night I dug some potatoes for dinner. It was nice to stand there in the garden and hose off a potato just out of the ground, cut it up and eat it right there.

My Dad always grew a huge vegetable garden and Mom froze and canned everything so we had lots during the winter. But we still had plenty to give away and everybody who came near the house in August or September left with vegetables.

It didn’t matter if you were a friend, a relative or whether you had come to repair something or deliver something, you were asked to wait. Dad would fill a bag with Swiss chard, peas, beans, carrots, beets and at least one good sized zucchini. A common question was, “What do I do with all this?”  Mom or Dad would patiently  give instructions on how they could get the most out of their windfall.

Nothing beat those fresh vegetables for taste. After all, Dad always wore suspenders and straw hat so they had to be ‘farm fresh.’

At least, that’s what McGregor says.

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