Ah, Spring, that joyous season when a gardener’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of – yield! It’s not yield as in “get out of my way, I’m merging into your lane of traffic.” It’s yield as in a basket piled high with vibrant chard leaves in one hand, a fistful of royal burgundy bush beans in the other hand, and a sleek zucchini under one arm.
Unfortunately, it is still too early for such bounty. For now, I am consoling myself with home-grown and fresh-frozen produce from 2013. I try not to panic when I catch glimpses of the bottom of the big chest freezer as I pull out a sack of corn kernels or a brick of squash purée. I reassure myself that I want to use up all the vegetables I processed last year, and there will be enough to last until this year’s garden steps up to feed me.
The first serious harvest of chard generally happens one week into June, and the first zucchini will clock in by the first day of July. July 1st is a holiday here in Canada, and rightly so. There’s a silly rumour that this holiday commemorates the confederation of the country back in 1867, but pay no attention to such nonsense. July 1st is Zucchini Day.
Waiting is difficult. Have you noticed? The closer I get to the first picking of chard, the more slowly the clock ticks. My hand twitches toward the paring knife, and my mouth waters like one of Pavlov’s pooches. “No, no, not yet,” I scold.
To console myself, today I wander into a farm market. They have imported nectarines on offer, one of my top five favourite fruits, and a fruit whose fussbudget of a tree would never allow itself to be caught alive in my garden. Woe is me.
In the market, I lightly finger the nectarines, most of which have all the tenderness of steel ball bearings. Finally, I find one with a bit of yield, pay a ludicrous ransom for it, and spirit it home to savour. I stand at the window so I can gaze lovingly over my garden as I eat the fruit. I anticipate.
First, though, I have to deal with the – not one but two – big stickers on the skin of the nectarine. The stickers refuse to peel, and I am forced to gouge them off, taking divots of fruit with them. I mutter curses upon the zealots who invented fruit stickers and the glue for fruit stickers. I even call upon one of my father’s favourite curses, “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your eyebrows.” Nasty stuff, but sometimes you just can’t hold yourself back.
Finally, de-stickered and washed, the nectarine is ready. I take a bite. Meh. For most of the nectarine, the flavour is fair at best, and the texture is mealy. Two bites of it, though, are exquisite – smooth and creamy, with all the subtle and strident notes of the nectarine of my dreams.
When I finish, I take the nectarine pit out to the compost. On my way back to the house, I pause to visually measure the progress of the chard and the beets. I know that there will be no disappointment over texture or flavour with any of this produce when the time comes. My impulse, barely restrained, is to croon, “Soon…soon…” like the gingerbread house owner who keeps testing Hansel to see if he’s fat enough to eat. Instead of rubbing my hands together, I try to adopt a casual air, and wonder if the plants are able to see into the heart of the person who has tenderly nurtured them for weeks. Not to alarm them prematurely, I quickly turn away and walk to the house. I hope the chard doesn’t notice as I wipe a speck of saliva from the corner of my mouth.