Garden Year

It is September and I am in the kitchen, turning the crank.

Tomatoes are everywhere: big bowls of them on the counter, pots of juice on the stove, plates of seeds and skins on the table.

I am barefoot because the Squeezo drips, speckling the linoleum and turning new socks quickly into old ones. I drop tomato slices into the funnel and juice flows steadily into the quart pot below. My sister is waiting her turn at the crank, and she passes the time by stealing slices from the bowls as Mom cuts. Out in the garden Dad fills another bushel and my brother shuttles tomatoes into the garage.

Food, in the Mazur household, is a family thing.

We still sit down to eat together every evening. All five of us can and do cook. We all tend the trees, plants, and roots that supply our table. It's a full-time job, and each season brings something different. The whole year cycles through our garden.

September. The tomatoes I am currently squeezing will eventually be homemade pizza and pasta sauce. Outside, the cherry tomatoes hang in clusters on their vines, but they will soon join their bigger brothers in stock for vegetable soup and in salads.

While we have been busy with the tomatoes, our raspberries have come on with a vengeance. We pick them daily now, going out with a quart container to brave the thorns and big yellow-crossed garden spiders that love the berry rows.

Cooler weather sets in at the end of the month, and Mom shakes her head as she looks over our apples--the bugs have got to them again. So the five of us pile into the van and drive up to the orchard for two or three or four bushels. For a few days there may be some frantic peeling and chopping and the smell of cooking apples coming from the big pot on the stove. Dad chooses five leftover apples, cores them and cooks them with cinnamon, our typical fall snack.

October. Potatoes don't like to be dug wet, but it has rained again and if we wait, the voles will be the ones doing the digging. My brother and my dad turn the dirt over; it sticks to the potatoes and has to be brushed off by hand. After a night on the porch and another bout of dirt-brushing, the yellows and reds go down to the basement while the sweets invade the family room for two weeks to cure. Two weeks of potatoes underfoot, dirt escaping onto the carpet, and one very confused dog.

December. Christmas sees only the chard still alive, just in time for wedding soup. I grate cheese for the rags and Mom and my sister clean the greens while Dad rolls hundreds of tiny meatballs.

Winter. We drool over pictures in seed catalogs and debate what to order. Fifty trees for the property line seems like a good idea. Maybe some white popcorn this year. Certainly we'll have room for a hundred sweet potato plants--won't we?

Early April, and the seed boxes have arrived. Dad plants the tiny specks with tweezers and defends the open bags of potting soil from curious cats. April also brings warm weather just long enough to confuse the trees, then a freeze. I bring eight or ten bales of straw home to cover the strawberries. Every basket, bucket, and blanket is drafted to shield flowers from the frost, and we're up well before dawn to wet down anything that couldn't be covered.

The freeze might wipe us out and it might not. If it doesn't, there will be strawberries and cherries just in time to conflict with outdoor planting. Corn, beans, and squash go into the ground outside, while Mom starts to fill the freezer with jam inside. My sister, brother, and I--all well into or past our teens--argue over who gets to lick the bowl.

We weed . . . and wait. By July, anyone still standing is complaining of a sore back. Thistles, sneaky little weeds, bite through gloves, and it is the lucky one of us who doesn't have at least one of their little stingers well embedded.

Then everything comes at once. Sweet corn, sticky and well buttered, becomes a dinner staple, and what we can't eat ends up blanched and frozen. Beans, peppers, cucumbers, peas, and any number of other mid-summer vegetables start piling up.

And tomatoes, tomatoes by the ton.

In a short while it's canning season again. Mom has forestalled any tomato-thieving this year by presenting my sister with a whole one to eat. Dad and my brother bring in the parade of bushel-baskets.

It is September, and I am in the kitchen, turning the crank.

Rebecca M. Mazur, the assistant director of new media at Kenyon, has finished juicing the tomatoes for the season. But she's still busy at home in Newark, Ohio, laying down newspaper in anticipation of the harvest from those hundred sweet potato plants.

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