Molly Fisk: Because August

Here we are at the time of year when, if you like to put up food for the winter, you really start to feel overwhelmed. For some reason every single tomato on every vine in the county has to get ripe at the same time. Whose nutty idea was that? It’s all or nothing, a kind of polarized thinking that humans have been training themselves out of for decades. But are the vegetables listening? They are not. They don’t care about us and our busy lives. It’s very sad.

And it’s not just tomatoes. Everything else is bursting and ready to pick too: melons and cucumbers, 42 kinds of summer squashes, plums, peaches, mild and hot peppers, corn, more corn, green beans, onions, garlic, kale, potatoes. . .oh, my Lord, the basil! The urgency  of it all is both thrilling and terrifying, especially if you’re hoping to save some of this plenty to eat during the winter. You have about ten days before all of it begins to soften and fall to the ground or, in the case of zucchini, secretly grow to the size of a birchbark canoe while you’re not looking.

Having a vegetable garden seems both morally right and straightforward: you plant in the spring, you weed and do a little watering in the summer, you harvest in fall and end up with satisfying rows of jars on your kitchen shelves. Sometimes you get to wear a cute floppy hat. The backyard smells glorious. Nobody mentions those disgusting tomato cut-worms that are the size of your cell-phone, or the fact that every single thing you plant is going to need your attention at exactly the same moment. Talk about pressure! It’s insane.

There’s a joke that says in August people all over the midwest lock their car doors, while the rest of the time they don’t bother.  As my brain tries to make sense of this, thinking: “Do they Christmas shop that early, and don’t want the presents stolen?” the punchline unspools from my memory banks. Oh, yeah. It’s not about theft, it’s about generosity. The doors are locked so your neighbors don’t sneak in and leave you bags of enormous unsightly zucchini.

I once ended up at a County Fair on Salt Spring Island, in Washington State, where someone had built a wonderful ski-jump-like contraption on which to race vegetables. I laughed till tears ran down my cheeks to see four little plastic wheels stabbed into the underside of a two-foot-long zucchini and its handy win over a glossy Asian eggplant. This seemed like an excellent use for extra vegetables: entertainment for island-bound people facing another winter.

But back to the tomatoes. To paraphrase Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of August: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Canning. Even though it’s 102 in the shade, my hot water bath is steaming. The jars are clean, the lids are sterile, the tomatoes have been skinned and chopped. Are you ready? Good luck!

On your mark, get set. . .GO!!!

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  • LGBBONS August 26, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Absolutely delightful little story.

  • Lyn August 26, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Salt spring island is in British Columbia, Canada not Washington State. It’s very close to the border so perhaps you didn’t notice you were in a different country.

  • Bev August 26, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Yep…got those zuccini here too….even in France. They are called courgettes but, believe me, it is the same thing. Enormous – I have one on my kitchen counter that is 18″ long and 9″ around! 😂😂