May 23, 2022 John Lee

We're Jammin'

As the Bob Marley anthem goes, “every little thing’s gonna be alright.” If you are (hard to believe!) unfamiliar with that national anthem, have a listen as you look at the outrageous bounty coming out of your late summer garden these days: berries, tree fruits, cucurbits, beans, peppers, eggplant and so much more. In case your garden is on hiatus this year, visit several of your local farm stands and farmer’s markets and bask in the incredible variety of produce for purchase. You may find yourself hard-pressed to put a name to all the plenitude displayed for your delectation. Don’t be browned off by your circumspection: a lot of what may be on display may not be to your parents’ idea of family fare. Gardens have gone global even if what might be on your table has not kept pace with the rate of cultural assimilation in the broader population. Never mind; don’t be shy. Ask the vendor for a recipe or, at least if they have ever prepared that thing that is so long you are not sure you want to touch it.

To that point, my wife and I found artfully arranged on the bench by the front door, two huge and delightful heirloom tomatoes (known yum!), a bitter melon and something else that was heretofore unrecognizable. As a long-practicing local truck farmer, I must say that there are crops that I have grown only because other people like them. Bitter melon is one of them. I am sure I ate it in China/PRC years ago without knowing it. But I am more than certain that I have never let it past my lips on my native soil (wittingly). It is not that it’s an acquired taste, it’s just not in my usual taste vocabulary or on our otherwise expansive list of go-to vegetables even though it is now common in the markets. What was more eyebrow-raising was something so esoteric that I had never seen it before despite my penchant for Asian seed catalogues.

Bitter Melon

Python Beans are to beans what pythons are to snakes: long and formidable-looking. But the similarity seems to end there. They cook up nicely if not too long (12-18”) but if left to their own devices will grow to several feet on a very sturdy (chain link?) trellis before petering out some frosty morning (see Baker Heirloom Seed Co. et al for cultural information and seed). We looked it up. They said the bean when sliced and sauteed would taste like a cross between a bean and a cucumber but if they get too long (+2’) they may have more of a zucchini profile.
Ours was way too long and the seeds, well sauteed, tasted more like peanuts.

Python Beans

So much for unexpected gifts. Back to the garden which has been on hiatus this summer due to a spasm of commonsense in the face of conflicting priorities. We have just finished the blueberry and blackberry harvest. The red raspberries were a bit sad but the black raspberry crop was strong again this year. The peaches were such that the crown split thanks to Henri and the pears were in line with the raspberries—slim pickings! But the veggies: unstoppable.

Always, every summer, at this juncture, we have gorged ourselves from the garden yet it keeps on giving! The thought of wasting any of it is almost unbearable. Hence, jammin’. Tomato jam, garlic jam, onion jam to name a few and all the possible permutations thereof. You get the point: there is no end to the amount and variety of jams/jellies and preservers to be put by for the lean times when otherwise only seed catalogues are there to sustain and inspire us on the cold, dark February nights when the Red Sox are in the cellar and the Patriots are on their fourth QB in three years—the dismal days.

But now, in September and October, it is the season to be making the most of the harvest: jamming the pantry shelves with your love’s labor, anticipating the addition of a sweet or savory note to a new or well-loved dish in the days ahead and feeling smugly virtuous that you’ve steered clear of the condiment and preserves aisles wherever you have to shop. In addition, and of no small consequence, you will have gifts to give, trade or barter and the security that your tastebuds will be happy for another off-season.

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Published by John Lee May 23, 2022