The papers today report that Michelle Obama has arranged to have a vegetable garden on the White House property, the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt presided over a victory garden during the Second World War. I suspect that there are not many regular participants in this blog who can remember “victory gardens”, or even are familiar with the term. I have few memories of the War–I was six when it ended–but one of them was of my father’s tending our victory garden in West Nyack, NY. Then when we moved a few miles to Nanuet, we had a much larger backyard which he turned into a vegetable garden–there was nothing like the taste of a ripe tomato straight off the vine. When I went looking for a house down here, near Catholic University, I had only two requirements: that there be room for my books inside and that outside there be room for a garden. And this past Wednesday I went out and planted peas, beans, lettuce and radishes–radishes both because I like them and because they grow so fast, and after long and cold winter I can’t wait for the first leaves to break the soil.
Last year I read with great enjoyment Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, an account of her family’s attempt to live for a year only on what they had themselves grown or on food that had been grown within 100 or 200 miles of their home. Besides telling that story, the book is a powerful criticism of the food industry–isn’t that an awful phrase! The book reminded me of the fall rituals of canning in our house: bushels of apples turned into apple sauce; peaches and pears preserved for winter deserts; chili sauce, relishes, and pickles; tomatoes and tomato sauce; jams and jellies; etc.
While I’m on my nostalgia kick, let me ask whether any of you remember using water glass to preserve eggs? We had chickens which wouldn’t lay many eggs during the winter months, so my father would put the eggs in a crock filled with water glass (sodium silicate, Wikipedia tells me) which somehow sealed the eggs and kept them fresh for the winter months. We used to dread hearing our mother say to go down to the cellar and get a couple of eggs because we’d have to reach down into this smelly viscous liquid–worthy of a horror movie–and retrieve them.
I’m retiring after 45 years of full-time teaching after this academic year, and my brother and I intend to have a garden and to raise chickens on our property in Bloomingburgh, NY. I think we’ll forgo the water glass, however.