There is no shortage of lettuce in my house. Or cucumbers or zucchini or string beans. And come fall, the larders will be laden with mounds of potatoes and squash.
No one is more committed to the farm-to-table ideology than my mother, which is why, on any given evening, my family can be found eating homemade, homegrown organic basil pesto, with a side of sauteed zucchini and lemon balm. Eternally present at the table is a salad that consists entirely of vegetables that can be found either in our backyard or at my mother’s plot at EECO Farm.
My mother tends her garden lovingly, putting as much effort into it as she does her two daughters. She works less now than she did when I was growing up, but a large portion of her free time is devoted to coaxing tomato plants up stakes and eradicating scourges of potato bugs — she picks them off by hand; no pesticides are used on her plants.
She explained to me recently that this year she’d grudgingly made the switch from seedlings to already sprouted plants. She had seen the other farmers at EECO Farm unabashedly plant quarter-grown tomato plants purchased from Agway last season, and eventually decided that this was the easier way to go. My mother has a green thumb, but baby tomatoes need round-the-clock care. She does lament, though, that the plants will not have been raised organically for their whole lives.
She showed what can only be called mother-like devotion to her plants a month ago, after she was injured and ordered, not only by the doctors, but by my father, myself, my sister, and her boss, to stay in bed for a few days. Needless to say, she could not be kept away from her garden for long, not trusting the weatherman’s assessment that it would rain soon, nor was she satisfied with a fridge that was slowing growing empty. These days we don’t buy any vegetables from the grocery store, and as a family of vegetarians, we’ve come to depend on Mom’s garden.
Despite headaches and bruises, she has not shirked her responsibilities to the garden, nor has she asked for my help. My parents never hired a baby sitter when my sister and I were younger; they didn’t trust anyone else with their children, and I doubt I would be trusted in the garden. Besides, it has become a point of pride for her that the food on our table is made or grown by her hands alone. She is constantly encouraging me to pack a salad for lunch or slipping a bag of snap peas into my bag for work. I may finally be in my 20s, but when I hurt my hand recently and was unable to wield a knife, my mom made me lunch.
Truth be told, the two organic gardens that she tends are merely an extension of her cooking empire. She is a skilled chef, though she is hard pressed to admit it, and excels at whipping something up out of thin air. We eat dinner late, around 9 p.m., and many a time I have walked into the kitchen at 8:45 to find my mother sipping a cup of tea, a mystery novel in hand. Like magic, though, by 9 p.m., she creates some fantastic concoction, perhaps an Indian dahl with naan bread on the side, or a pasta dish that has been passed down in her family for generations. She is also an A-plus pastry chef and, not to rub it in, makes the best pie crust I’ve ever tasted.
In recent weeks, she has hauled out her old pasta machine, a relic from a past life in California, a time that my father has deemed “before baby.” She has taken to making fettuccini and spaghetti from scratch, declaring that it’s easier to make it herself than drive all the way from Springs into East Hampton Village to buy pasta. Two nights ago she used her pasta machine to make buckwheat Soba noodles. My father and I thought that the results — a stir fry of noodles, shrimp, and vegetables — were exemplary, but my mother did not agree, claiming that the noodles came out too thick and that she would have to try again.
Lucia Akard is an editorial intern at The Star. She will be a senior at Skidmore College in the fall.