My mother loved fresh tomatoes. She often grew her own and reveled in the feel of her hands in black dirt, the joy of picking and eating something she’d grown herself. When she lived in places without enough space to garden, she’d stop at the small roadside stands of local farmers – those made of weathered wood and rusty nails – and slide cash into a coffee can before taking home a basket full. She’d slice those deep red tomatoes, salt them and eat with reverence. Years later, after Luisa and I bought our house, I remember her sitting in our freshly turned garden and saying, “Oh girls, this black dirt…” as if we’d struck gold in our tiny plot in the city. We planted tomatoes and peppers and a variety of herbs but our excitement waned as the summer wore on and we realized that gardening is work. You have to weed and water and your hands get dirty and you sweat and I have never been fond of any of those things. But, as our plants began to bear, we forgot about all of that as we made large batches of tomato sauce and pesto for the winter and in the dark months of those Minnesota winters, we took pesto from our freezer to mix with pasta and I could taste summer and understand my mother’s appreciation for things eaten right from the garden.
We endured several growing seasons – reluctantly weeding and tending to our plants – but we stopped gardening altogether once we had our first child. Life was different, our priorities changed and the little bit of time we had that wasn’t consumed by the care and feeding of a person was precious. Time was too short to spend it doing something we didn’t enjoy. So, we turned our backyard garden over to a friend to use in exchange for a small portion of what she’d grown. To be honest, I’m happy to buy my produce at the coop, the modern day equivalent of those weathered farmer’s stands from my past. But last summer, I watched as my children lazily plucked cherry tomatoes from the vine and laughed as they burst in their mouths, juice running down their chins. I watched as they stared in wonder at peppers hanging from plants and lettuce poking through the soil. They understood what I’d forgotten at the first sign of my own inconvenience – that there really is something incredible about eating something you’ve grown.
So, this summer, we decided to garden again. Luisa researched raised beds and designed one that I am certain could withstand a post-apocalyptic zombie raid. Then, just a few days ago, I went to the garden store with my son and picked out our plants. He excitedly begged for one tomato variety after another and wanted every herb he saw. We kept it simple though – tomatoes, basil, a little mint for the occasional cocktail – but I did give in to his plea for a hanging strawberry plant that I’m sure will not survive.
Yesterday, I grabbed the shovel and dug holes and scooped dirt with my bare hands. I pulled plants from plastic containers and nestled them into their new homes and pushed black dirt over their roots. As I was shoveling peat around each plant, the kids finally dragged themselves outside to help. I filled the bed with peat and we pushed our hands in and crumbled the larger chunks until it was smooth and even. My son set up the sprinkler, turned it on and we watched as water sprayed in rainbows over our new garden.
Sweat was running down my back and there was dirt under my nails and mud was smeared on my arms and legs and there was streak of it across my forehead and I hated it. There was no magical transformation, no revelation. Change is rarely that simple. We put in a garden and it was work and I will never enjoy the work. But, I know that when we sit down to dinner this summer and eat pesto made from the basil we grew and make caprese from our own tomatoes, I will appreciate the tastes and the effort and I will enjoy watching my kids eat with the same reverence my mother did all those years ago. We will use our garden to deepen our connections to each other and to the food we bring to our table which will hopefully strengthen and enrich our shared family meals.
The word for our family dinners this summer is savor. We’ll strive to savor the food, the work and the company.
What do you do differently for your family meals during the summer? Do you garden? Share your answers and your one word for family mealtimes this summer using #sharethetable on Facebook or Twitter to join the conversation. Remember that Barilla donates 10 meals to Feeding America every time you do. Sharing is good.
This is a sponsored post on behalf of Barilla, however, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products.