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Gardens-specifically, vegetable gardens-figured strongly in my Midwestern childhood. Planning, planting, weeding, harvesting, and then canning or otherwise preserving the vegetables we’d be eating that winter took up a LOT of time. Seriously, a lot. The canning was the worst.
The planning was the best, because it involved poring over the seed catalogs which arrived every winter when you had time for that sort of thing. Our favorite was Gurney’s, partly because they had the best pictures and featured some ‘exotic’ choices. ‘Hey, Mom, can we grow Jerusalem artichokes? Paw-paw vines? Birdhouse gourds?’ (Yes, no, and no). We had better luck with Dad-I still remember the year he let us grow an all-blue potato. Mashed potatoes just taste better when they’re a deep lavender, no?
But the best thing about Gurney’s was the Children’s Seed Pack. I’m not exactly sure if that’s what it was called-and they don’t seem to offer it anymore-but once upon a time, you could send Gurney’s a penny along with your parents’ order, and they’d send you a variety pack of vegetable and flower seeds. The product description said something about how you should be responsible and take care of the garden you planted, and it had to be your own penny, taped to the order form, not just added to the rest of the order. But when the seed order came, there’d be this crazy surprise pack just for you!
Thanks to that variety pack, we got some long, skinny radishes called ‘French Breakfast’. And an orange cauliflower. Dark purple tomatoes. Lots of marigolds. And dianthus, which we called ‘pinks’-I still love their spicy clove scent. Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and sunflowers as big as a dinner plate. One year I even got my birdhouse gourds. I never got any birds to move into mine, but I had fun trying. In fact, the whole endeavor was fun, mostly because we got to try new and ‘exotic’ things. (Also, none of the things we grew from that variety packet produced enough quantity to necessitate canning.)
I like variety in general, not just in vegetables. And honestly, there hasn’t been a lot of variety in life lately, unless you count walking routes or jigsaw puzzle choices. So we’ve been trying to mix it up a bit on the table, pairing leek fritters with an Italian bubbly, spicy cauliflower with a chilled Valpolicella (seriously, that was GOOD), and memorably, pomegranate margaritas with a rich mac & ched.
If you’d like some of that variety, come on in. We’re happy to share.