Sunday, August 30, 2009

CREDENCES OF SUMMER: THE BUTCHER'S GARDEN (recipe: Scrapple, Pear Chutney & Gorgonzola Pizza, with Matter of Thyme Crust)

A garden is a cutting place. At Summer's end, I can still hardly talk about what's happened in mine—almost. It's been a place of brutal wonder, of savage, raw tastes and devastations, of sun-in-zenith expectation; a place of soul crimes run florid, a cacophony of buzzing and birdcall, of juices in every cleft, and violences I never imagined I'd actually love--much less thrive on--when I cast out heirloom seeds in early June.

I had envisioned a simple kitchen garden--and by this I mean 86 tomato seedlings, 54 glossy potato plants, double rows of curling, hopeful beans along one whole side of the paddock, rows of appropriately redemptive cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, kale. A place I could draw from all Summer to Fall; to catch, to can, to freeze these labors in time.

It started with the digging; it always does.

One overgrown barnyard, one persistent, prodigal faith, one bramble vision. It's true, I'm a roto-tiller when I want something, and what I wanted this Summer was to turn over this hard rocky ground after years of living here; to get into it. This is not the activity for you if you don't like to sweat or if you need Lotto ticket proof of something, instantly. If you love to claw and rut, if you don't mind the constant saline trickle between your breasts, your body gone ropy or just plain gone, then yes, this is just the job for you.

Oh, this garden, this post!: Stage of archetypical dramas. There is bloodshed! There is subterfuge! There is suspense! There is song and dance! Costume and wild things! A pack of vicious groundhogs and doppelganger doves leaving mysterious eggs in white-platinum shells of Magical Realism. WARNING: Enter here, and you will find only the shade of a leafless, lightning-shivved Cherry tree for cover, uneven pieces of trunk fallen hard to the sides for seating, all of it some crumbling amphitheater in which to view these acts and these actors.

when the cherry tree comes down in the garden of metaphor, there is just no shade to be had.

I will also laugh and warn you now, most everything I learned about gardening this Summer was animal in nature anyway.

First, let me tell you what I've seen:

-A groundhog, a band or throng of despicable groundhogs, can raze a substantial garden to nubbins, to broken stems, in a single night. The hateful fatback or whistle pig can take five rapid shots to the body with a 22 Hornet and still run 150 yards, unfazed, still turn to leap-leer right at you before finally keeling down. You can butcher a groundhog on your patio furniture with some simple modifications, including plywood, latex gloves, a small supply of lawn and leaf bags and a hatchet. The sneer of the thing, the scythe-tooth, even lifeless, is unconscionable, however scattering the leftover body parts in the garden at points of entry is reputed to eradicate further threat.

-Doves--whether ash, wild or dark, turtle, rain or mourning--known for their softly urgent call (Coo OOO ooo, ooo!) are common but deeply selective and monogamous birds, often nesting in barnyards and gardens. Once in a long while, a dove will lay an egg in plain, low-lying sight—like right in your seed tray--allow your seeking hands in her nest, and will work alongside you in onyx-eyed company as you sweat, unruffled by clanging, swearing and sprays of dirt, mutually encouraging this daily suspension of disbelief, this bird-human breathlessness.

a watched egg is the only kind that hatches

Watch out, though! Doves are tricky! Because the male and female are eerily similar in appearance, and both incubate their egg, they're never seen together unless spied trading off, so you'll not realize it's two doves. The effect of a single seamless & tireless bird, a perfect egg hatched from a single parent, can be deceptive. Oh, and I have some news for you about doves: they're not there to bring peace.

-And finally (I told you this was a carnal post), contrary to what Freud--who is everywhere in this garden--said, a zucchini is NEVER just a zucchini.

What if I told you…told you it was all true? Well, it is all true.

The problem with writing in metaphors is that people think nothing real ever happens to you—let's just agree on this now. Poor Aesop!—what self-limiting face-to-face conversations could
he have—once the word was out? Could anyone trust him not to do the voices? Cloak everyone around him in skins and furs to make his points? Could friends count on him to just say it? Did they open their mouths in friendly conversational protest, only to be shocked to draw a wet incriminating feather from their OWN lips? A bone? A hank of hide? A gullet-slick pebble?

I mean, really, imagine the murk, the scrutiny you'd have to apply to his Facebook updates--all of them suspect or open to interpretation, except this: "Aesop is …totally FUCKED."

Most of us have a general sense we sew ourselves up tightly within our own stories, that it's an inside job, and that despite this, our treacherous tags flap away on the outside all the while. Mine says: "The Girl Who Cried Metaphor." Like any cliché, it's all right there, fully provable, knowable as a punch in the gut (to this end, I provide full documentation & photos where possible).

Nature is a real metaphor to contend with: pulverizer, long-vined redemptress, grueling schoolmarm, scrutinizing the details of our souls and bringing them right up between our toes and through the very ground where we must then walk.

Now, you and I know that attempting to grow anything under "controlled" circumstances is a risk--it's just another exercise in loss of control and vital fluids. The garden lets us toil in it, makes us beg to wait to see what comes next—but it does not yield to our hand. It cleverly generates body-specific soil we can't wash away when we leave, I will tell you, not seventeen cold showers and an aloofa later. It draws us in again and again by the possibility that we can change rock to loam, that we can protect our constructs and poses, even as we know there are no secure perimeters in the garden—in or out--what grows, grows.

Let me tell you, the dawn I entered the garden to find the doves had gone unceremoniously, saw the rodential massacre, the razored green ruin (I think this was the same day I fell into a rut and twisted my ankle), all I could get out was so simple, it was "But WHY now?"

It was exactly like the one you love turning away from you in the dark, no explanation but the smell of freshly turned earth, sheets of dove music, bloody post-its and gravel-cum-cuttlebones on the pillows; summer sorrels grown rangy and wild, leggy, gone to seed, rooted up and spread over all the furniture and the bed to dry to save the seeds. A shotgun, safety off, and the Wallace Stevens hid under the bed; a cloud of dust in the lane.

But didn't I get what I wanted? (and come on--can we save anyone else from what they want, even if we try?) Wasn't this the best Summer in ages? Under the bull fire dailyness of the sun, to find purpose, and during the night under stars, to rediscover the childhood game of connect-the-life. And under all of it, big splashing tears for being able to feel anything at all again, salt licks and rivulets of cathartic sweat—a salt deluge.

It was the Summer of raising foods beyond foods—metaphor and metafoods (email me privately if you'd like the recipe for bake-your-own-manna)--of cooling water from the Eden of old wells, of ancient barnyard taps painfully rushing the confines of slim copper conduits with murderous certainty, of the sudden vengeance of wriggling subterranean things, of weeping for consistency and pattern, of licking ice cubes falling into the grass from just-missed glasses on still-warm seats at the cosmic barbecue. Summer of carnival delights, of ether love escaping through the baking ground.

This is the Summer I dug up my old feelings and planted new ones, cut them down cut them out every night, only to have them spring up again by morning, espaliered. So I seasoned and seared them. I arranged them on a plate, I photographed them, ate them up—ate the evidence. Is there any evidence something happened here? In the garden overrun, can you see the fault lines?—There is no fault in the garden!—or, depending, simply piles of it to go around.

I suspect there aren't enough garden gloves to point all the fingerling potatoes.

Still, can you think of anything worth our time—no matter the outcome--like attempting to sustain and sate ourselves in the most basic ways? I can't. It was a fine Summer to grow tired, quite organically, of feeling desire could ever be too much--that I could ever be too much--of apologizing for vision, for the need to ascribe meaning, for the ways of webbing and weaving. The irony is, that in this leaf-shorn garden full of nothing but ghost-fruits, I have nothing left to offer you as a good hostess but my hungers and desires.

putting the boot down on guilt for dirty desires manifest

So, then. I can't apologize for my vision or my belly, for my animal nature, for hanging like a schoolgirl on the barndoor of the words. For planting my rows and my feet wide and trying. For believing my hands, my specifically dirty hands, must have some effect. I must continue to believe I can move landforms with my words, change my landscape, amend my soil, to believe that matter matters and exists even unseen.

The huge, the dizzying attempt, it's kind of my specialty.

And If you'd told me it would all end up this way?: the horrible groundhogs, the dove abandoners, the hours of sweat, the dark scary magic of the garden, I wouldn't have believed you anyway—mostly because NOW I get that it never ends. You can't garden for a single season, out of context. Fall follows, Fall will be here soon, sturdy and quiet and as plainly unappreciated as a root vegetable. And next Summer?—it'll be just the same but brand new, too. These may be the Credences of Summer, but this particular Summer's not the opus, the garden itself is a fine life's work, if we are very lucky.

So in the Fall, I will bow out of my too-warm kitchen, toasted spices secreted to coat pockets, and slip out again under the cover of rime. I will steal back to this garden and strike again with my spade-a-spade. At home in my thickening pelt, I will keep digging in the cold shrine.

And now an update, because here's how the Universe works:

The exact moment you doubt that all the garden love you sweated out went unnoticed or came to nothing—that you're empty-handed? The following will occur--ESPECIALLY if you're good for a clumsy dramatic exit, which I am (think Katharine attempting to leave Count Almasy with "something to think about" under the bleachers).

The precise second you give up on the garden, slam the paddock door and try to stalk off? Be assured, you will trip over a sheaf of wild thyme which conceals, rather unfortunately or fortunately, another fucking groundhog burrow, and so, run your forehead smack into a Pear tree, which has been just outside the garden fence, seemingly dormant--a tree you suddenly notice bearing.

You will stand, in knee-buckling pain, tears sprouting from your eyes, one foot in a groundhog trench, feeling very, very sorry for yourself for a second, but also contemplating, almost instantly, pear chutney. You will turn back one last time to curse the garden and all its labor pains and see red.
No seriously—RED. As in, oh my Word, hundreds of little cadmium flecks of it on the garden floor.

a surprise red carpet, the garden's drama is not over

Apparently?—undermining groundhogs are not interested in tomatoes. Ignored, unstaked, unwatered—they grew new leaves, they grew anyway. The corn made its way up, frowsy and unnoticed, and the peppers were only slow. Only slow—can you imagine? In fact, the only thing I lost were the cruciferous vegetables—and I got their first and sweetest cuts, anyway. Frankly, you really only need redemption once.

Lovey Dovey--wait, are you sure?!--and Maybe Baby~

And okay, I used the two doves for dramatic effect—they didn't actually go anywhere. The hatchery served its purpose nicely, and the two, plus their squab (christened Maybe Baby) continue to circle and light in the garden at will, without need of shifts now. And sometimes they come to my window.

You see it only takes a little Magical Realism, come to roost in the slender arms of a tree, to be stopped in your tracks, returned to the garden, new perspectives and recipes in mind.

All I have to say is, Mr. Newton, you had it wrong. Sir, it was a pear.

Go ahead and make the chutney now. You're going to need it for the Fall.

Scrapple, Pear Chutney & Gorgonzola pizza, with Matter of Thyme Crust


This is not rocket science, it's a chuntney. Chop the peeled green fruit you have—10 pears here—and put it in a pot with 3 cups of brown sugar and 6 of cider vinegar. Add things in amounts that taste good to you: chopped crystallized ginger (1C), golden raisins (1C), chopped onion (1), some lemon peel, cinnamon (if you must), dried mustard (1 tsp), salt. Cook the heck out of it, tinker with the consistency, follow someone meticulous for canning if you like (I got 4 pints canned, plus enough for a pork roast).


This is the basic dough recipe I use and then abuse for pizzas, pretzels, etc. You may be disappointed to learn I often substitute 2 cups of pedestrian cornbread/muffin mix for some of the flour because it gives it a great texture, and because, if you think with all this patient rhetoric I am immune to looking for the shortcut, you are insane. This recipe makes one enormous pizza, or about 4 smallish pizzas.

1 ½ C warm water , 2 tsp sugar , 2 tsp yeast
4 ¼ C flour combination (use unbleached + wheat + cornmeal mix, etc)
1 T kosher salt , ¼ C + olive oil
Leaves from handful of thyme

Combine the water, sugar and yeast until it foams—10 minutes.
Put everything except salt and thyme in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Run, gather, oil the dough in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth & put in a greenhouse window (if you have one). Punch down in an hour, then continue to let rise until you use it.

Thyme Crust
Pear Chutney
Grated Romano
Firm pear, sliced
Fried scrapple in exceedingly compulsive matchsticks (see next post for scrapple discussion, methods & a visual trip to the butcher)
Crumbled gorgonzola
Drizzled fig vinegar
Thyme leaves ~ leave these for last, so they will stay tender and green. Be patient and wait till it's almost done, then add them in the final minutes.

-I used scrapple because I happen to have tons of it right now. Marrow would also be fantastic.
-I used thyme because this Summer was all about thyme for me—but marjoram might be amazing. Or even rosemary.

Okay, this was a huge meal--It's a lot to eat by yourself, but it keeps, you'll see. It's kept just fine.


leslie said...

i was in your garden. i could hear the doves. i could feel the beads of sweat and the swelling ankle.
"...mostly because NOW I get that it never ends."

these are the reasons i
love your writing- you never fail to transport me into a different world (and you used the word frowsy!).


"...mostly because NOW I get that it never ends."

anthony said...

I get the feeling that if I were to try out your wonderful recipe it would not compare to what was produced in your own garden, with it's own pears, herbs, and groundhog scrapple.
What a lively entry; It reminded me of "Peter and the Wolf".

Paul said...

I've been hitting the "next blog" button this evening. Good grief! Between the inane "Emily had her first poo by herself this morning" posts and the ubiquitous "I tried this acne cream and I'm just a home maker and it changed my life for ever" stuff, I was getting really really discouraged.

So what a fantastic thing to have stumbled upon this post. When I saw the top of the page, I thought, "Meh. A blog about cookies", but I read on, and this post was just entrancing. I have an allottment, and spent this afternoon digging our heavy and rootbound soil. Sweat and aching back indeed. You have my empathy. I do notice that you haven't posted anything for quite a while. I hope you're still hale and healthy, and that you post more in the future.

Best Wishes, and thank you.