There are some things this Farm Wife just shouldn’t do, and one of those is reading cookbooks. I will devour a new recipe, reading it from start to finish. That alone isn’t a problem. The danger comes from reading the ingredient list and seeing something that I don’t keep on hand. “I could grow that,” I think to myself. However, if I ever did grow all of that wonderful fresh food, I would have to have ten times the land.
In reality, there is just no way anyone can grow everything they need and use on a daily basis, and more than likely all that they might like to use once or twice a year. I could probably grow more than we do, but some things take more care than we have time to do. And there are still more things, like various fruit trees, that I can handle, but just have to get the healthy root stock and find a place to put my ‘orchard’.
Living out here in the country, that problem is alleviated somewhat. I am surrounded by a special garden, called ‘Love’. My neighbors all cultivate this, and the harvest is remarkable. They offer up the extras from their own garden, and do it with a willing, joyful heart. The produce is all so much better, as you aren’t just getting a tomato, you are also getting a part of them – their labor, their sweat, their dedication, their knowledge, and their love for all things growing.
I don’t have blueberry plants, but not three miles from the house is the Cedar Hill Blueberry Farm. Each June I head down there and get several gallons of those fresh, plump purple berries. With them, I put up blueberry sauce (for my sour cream pound cake), cordial (for a refreshing summer drink), spiced blueberry jam, and keep the rest in the freezer for the times I make Loyalist Bread and muffins. Three to four gallons usually lasts me until the next year.
Today, (and probably on and off all week long), I headed down to Johnny and Thelma’s. They have several yellow plum trees in their backyard. Due to time constraints for them, they won’t be doing much, if anything, with them this year. So they offered them to me. Johnny and Thelma make the absolute best plum jelly with those fruits, and this year I get to try my hand at it. Of course, I may need to get both of them down here to drink coffee while I work, so they can coach and supervise my efforts, but to me, that’s just will add a ‘natural sweetness’ to the finished product!
Johnny and Danny both grow watermelons. Each year we get two or three. If I can keep the Country Boy from eating them all, I use at least one to make Watermelon Jelly. Many a morning we have been out in Danny’s fields digging up potatoes, and once we spent the better part of the day in Johnny’s pea patch pulling purple hulls. Those got shelled, washed and frozen, and we filled our bellies many a night during the winter feasting on them.
Another lady I know has offered me all the pears I want. In return, I send her jars of pear halves and Carrot Cake jam. I also throw in a jar or two of other jellies I have on hand. Kathleen doesn’t offer much from her garden-instead she brings prepared beans, soups and breads that she has made in her kitchen. I just love coming home from a hectic day and knowing I have some of her Lentils in the freezer, ready to heat and serve.
In return, I get apples each year from Arkansas. Danny heads down and fills a bag or two with his favorites. Johnny and Thelma got a ‘short’ bag with a few goodies from my garden, plus two pints of green beans. They will get other installments throughout the year, and will definitely get a jar or two of the plum jelly when it’s finished. And truly, the neighbors who offer their goods don’t really expect anything in return. I just prefer to say ‘thank you’ with a jar or two, or some baked goods.
I thank God for providing me this lesson in farming. By His grace, I have been blessed with wonderful friends and neighbors who cultivate this wonderful plant called Love. It has taken me a while to truly learn this lesson, but I have finally figured out that I don’t really have to grow everything. If I just take the time to look around, someone is growing what I am not, and most of them are always up for a trade. And I just don’t believe that the food on the table can be any better than that. It has that little extra ingredient in it called, “Love thy neighbor”. It can be rare spice, but well worth the effort needed to cultivate it.