2007-11-15 / Sam Bari

'Tis the season to stop vegging

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

It's over, folks. The season has ended. We are in a new phase. There will be no more vegging for the rest of the year. Not one weird fresh vegetable will be brought into this house from anybody's garden until next summer.

Look outside. What do you see? A patch of yard the size of the State of New Jersey that is nothing but dust, old dried leaves, and a few loose sticks lying on ground that is fast freezing into something resembling arctic tundra. Those are the remnants of a dead garden. Nothing lives there in the winter - nothing.

The last fresh tomato, eggplant, zucchini, rutabaga, or other strangevegetable that I can't spell and do not wish to pronounce has passed these lips for the last time for the remainder of the winter and most of the coming spring.

Next week is Thanksgiving, and the season of pie, cake, roast turkey, stuffing, and everything representing real food is officially upon us. 'Tis the season of food lovers everywhere. Turnips, Japanese cucumbers, summer squash, and endive are not included. If I eat one more vegetable casserole, I will snap like a snap pea. The aroma of fresh horse manure is no longer in the air. If you need that odoriferous, foul smelling scent in your life, then move to a horse farm.

Every year my friends and neighbors eye the large yard surrounding my house with suspicion. The lawn is lush, the flowers are healthy, and the vegetable garden is nonexistent. I am a candidate to be victimized by the "Oops, I Planted Too Much of Everything" gardeners' society. All friends, neighbors, and casual acquaintances that were born with the insufferable gardening gene target me for a dumping ground for the produce they have grown and cannot consume, can, or sell.

This year I had enough tomatoes, of every variety imaginable, eggplant, pumpkins, leeks, cabbages, asparagus, and corn left on my doorstep in paper sacks, bushel baskets, and boxes, that I could have set up a stand and gone into the produce business for three months with inventory to spare.

I have enough canned tomatoes, corn relish, green beans, potatoes, and pickled beets that I could stock an air raid shelter for three years and not worry about being vegless.

That being said, I must also say that I know my neighbors and friends mean well, and their generosity is much appreciated. I would do nothing to offend any of them. They are warm and benevolent people. However, I still have this overabundance of produce filling my kitchen, pantry, root cellar, and freezer. I bought canning jars by the case and have nowhere to store anything more.

So, I must confess that when I received, let's say, a box of "Togo Trifle African" tomatoes, I would put a few in a box with maybe some turnips, or some other veggies that I had too much of, and deliver the box to a neighbor who gave me a few of their "Zapoteck Pink Pleated" tomatoes. I'd attach a note saying they might enjoy a few of these. And I would disburse the overstock to all who so generously contributed to my seemingly vegetable-needy life.

I am sure that the gardeners who received vegetables from me needed another edible delicacy from another garden like they needed an additional appendage. I don't doubt that they in turn passed my offering to their friends who they hoped didn't grow those species. I cannot help but wonder how many vegetables inadvertently found their way back to the original donor.

The truth is, I really do enjoy the fruits of my friends' gardens, and look forward to the harvest every year. I feel the need to pay them back. So, during the holiday season, I try to make enough pies, barbecue sauce, and pastries to show my appreciation. I have yet to see a pie passed on to another household because nobody wanted to eat it.

This just goes to show you that real food is still an American tradition and we will continue to consume pies, cakes, barbecue ribs, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, and all the delicious flavors that will keep cardiologists in business for some time to come. The Holiday season of gourmet delights is a wonderful part of living in that system we can't understand.

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