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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

For Richard Nixon, August 1974 was the month when he finally reaped what he’d sown long before.

My grandpa (a Nixon voter) spent that month doing pretty much the same thing.

Except, instead of calumny and disgrace, he had his hands full harvesting a much happier crop:

Tomatoes.

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August 10, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win.

My grandfather’s calendar entries from early 1974 (such as this one) indicated he had his mind set on a serious year of gardening. He had his eyes on the seed catalogs in February, and he got an early start.

And in August — just after Nixon shuffled off to California in disgrace and Gerald Ford took office — my grandpa began to reap the benefits of his work and attention.

On Aug. 10 — the first day on the calendar that specifically mentions tomatoes — he harvested a dozen, weighing more than seven pounds. On the next day, a Sunday, the haul continued under sunny skies:

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August 11, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win. Again.

Two days later was his 64th birthday, and he marked it with three more tomatoes weighing a pound and a quarter.

By the end of that week, he’d harvested 18 more tomatoes weighing more than nine pounds. The week after that (Aug. 18-24), he took 82 tomatoes weighing roughly 40 pounds.

(Just how big was his patch? I don’t remember it being that big. But he had a decent-size yard to work with. And in this period of time, he seems to have dedicated himself to working with it.)

My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve moved to a new place the following week, which called my grandpa out of town. He made up for it upon returning, picking a one-day record number of tomatoes:

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August 30, 1974. Mets and Yanks both win. President Ford meets Woody Hayes.

The harvest continued at a slightly slower pace into September. In fact, you could technically say it continued into the fall, as the last tomato-related entry shows up a day after the autumnal equinox. (It’s slightly unclear on which day the tomatoes actually got picked, but it doesn’t matter at this distance.)

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September 23-24, 1974. Mets lose. Yankees are swept in a doubleheader, knocking them out of first place, which they will not regain. President Ford meets Bart Starr.

Actually, I take that comment back about the last tomato-related calendar entry: On Oct. 2, the calendar records “100 green T.” Ever thrifty, my grandpa, and not one to let possibly usable tomatoes wither on the vine.

And at the end of October, he did the math and summarized the season’s take:

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October 1974. It is entirely possible my grandpa picked his own weight in tomatoes between Aug. 10 and Oct. 2.

If there’s a downside to this run of calendar entries, it’s that my grandmother almost certainly couldn’t make a marinara, Bolognese or puttanesca sauce worthy of the name.

The idea of all those garden-fresh tomatoes makes the mind reel with recipes, most of them involving olive oil and garlic … but, most likely, the season’s bounty was either eaten raw or put up in jars.

No matter. I’m sure every one of those 347 tomatoes was enjoyed, for flavor, for thrift, and for health.

And I imagine Richard Nixon — ailing and stuck in San Clemente — would have given what little he had that summer and fall to swap harvests with my grandpa.

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Only about two hours before I sat down to type this, I went down the stairs and into my modest backyard garden, where my jalapeno plants had been busy.

I spent several minutes there, picking enough sun-ripened deep green fruit to fill both hands (and I have big Gil Hodges-style meathooks … as I said, my jalapeno plants had been busy.)

Then I marched my takings upstairs, mixed them with some vinegar and kosher salt, and made a tall jar of vaguely Tabascoid hot sauce that should enliven my food for some time to come if I can keep from sneaking spoonfuls between meals.

July 26, 2014.

July 26, 2014.

It is at times like this that I feel sorry for people who don’t have space to garden, and mildly contemptuous of people who have land but don’t plant anything in it.

I do not deserve to stand on any gardening soapbox — my ‘penos seem to thrive on little more than sun, rain and benign neglect.

But really, it doesn’t take hours of back-breaking labor to grow just a few herbs, fruits or vegetables. They’ll add flavor to your table, while giving you a sense of pride and accomplishment beyond your actual effort.

My grandpa was a real gardener — much more committed and hard-working than I’ve ever been.

This week’s calendar entry finds him both investing time in his garden,¬†and profiting from it.

(I assume “dust toms” means “apply some sort of fertilizer and/or insect repellent to one’s tomatoes.” I similarly assume “1 lb Beans” means “Picked 16 ounces of beans.”)

I bet those beans tasted good, if my grandma didn’t boil the hell out of them, or something similarly ill-advised.

And, I bet my grandpa took pride in harvesting and eating them.

Just like I’m going to savor each spoonful of homemade jalapeno sauce I ladle onto my ice-cream sundaes.

July 26, 1975.

July 26, 1975. Mets win in extras; Yanks lose.

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