Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eating the harvest

Harvest? In February? Actually, most of the harvest took place months ago, but I seem to be having trouble eating it.

I recognized I had a problem in June, when the fennel was ready to eat. There were 24 beautiful bulbs, just waiting to be julienned into salads, or steamed under fish in parchment, or braised in broth in a saute pan. But did I eat them? No - I just admired them, regularly. Every day I would stand by the raised bed and admire the fern-like fronds, and imagine how good they would taste when I finally decided to eat them. That went on so long that by the time I brought myself to pull one out of the soil it was past its prime. So there I was, having saved my fennel only to end up with two dozen woody bulbs.

I had the same problem with my canned harvest. I made great pickled beets, but I only opened the first jar recently. And I worked hard to can as many tomatoes as the greenhouse could produce. They're all still there except the one I finally used last week. And when the vast quantities of strawberries kept rolling in I chastised Kim for eating them fresh, insisting we needed to save them in the freezer. And they're still there, for the most part - in the freezer.

What gives? you may be asking. I'm asking myself the same question, and I think there are a few reasons I'm hesitating to enjoy the food we grew.

Reason #1 is that I am saving the harvest for a special occasion. I'm not entirely sure what that occasion might be. Maybe the thought of fresh-from-the-garden produce is so wonderful I figure it shouldn't be for everyday. Which pretty much defeats the purpose of giving up our jobs and moving to a farm. I think I need to get over this.

Reason #2 is pride. Those 24 bulbs of fennel looked gorgeous, and I felt a real sense of achievement that I, the city girl who had never had a vegetable garden before, grew them. Surely they deserved to be admired a while more before being eaten.

Reason #3 is a bit weirder. The third reason I feel a need to save the harvest instead of eating it is a fear of - um - armageddon.

You may have noticed that, what with concerns over meteorites hitting the house and middle-of-the-night flood evacuations, I have a bit of a problem with disaster scenarios. But really, it's not that big a deal, and beyond making sure we have a reasonable earthquake kit (which all Vancouver Islanders should have) I don't think fear of disaster affects my day-to-day life.

But when we moved here to try to grow our own food, we also moved into the sphere of people around the world striving for self-sufficiency. And some of those are people preparing for one kind of armageddon or another: peak oil, climate crises, a day of judgement. When I'm googling "homesteading" or "self-sufficiency" I try to bypass sites with numerous biblical quotes, or instructions about handling small arms. But I think somehow I have been infected, a little, by the fears behind them.

I can see how this might happen. There's a lot of overlap between self-sufficiency and survivalism. What do people who want cheaper organic vegetables and people who fear the collapse of the rule of law have in common? They grow their own food. What links frugal folks trying to be thrifty with certain religious groups preparing for crises? Food stockpiles - you know, buying things in quantity when they go on sale, or preserving as much of the harvest as you can. And whether you're trying to reduce your carbon footprint or you're afraid of having no electricity because society as we know it has collapsed, you might choose to have solar power. Different motivations with the same outcome.

So, I think part of my reluctance to break into the freezer or the pantry for the harvest I preserved last summer and fall might be a semi-subconscious sense that I should be saving the food for harder times.

This year I am determined that this not affect my decisions about eating the harvest - at least not unconsciously. I am determined that every bulb of fennel I plant get eaten and enjoyed, preferably at its prime. We will eat warm, juicy raspberries for breakfast, and if last year's harvest was any indication, there will still be lots leftover for the the freezer. When the greenhouse is full to bursting with tomatoes we'll slice some into salads, dry some for the pantry and make the rest into tomato sauce which we'll enjoy during the months until the next harvest.

The next harvest: what lovely words.

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