Monday, September 16, 2013

Growing Your Own: When Memories Collide

When I was at a gardening event in late spring, I was given a packet of Mississippi Silver Cowpeas by one of the exhibitors. I already grow two varieties of cowpeas, so I passed this packet along to another gardener. I spoke last week with the gardener, and it was easy to see that, for him, the peas brought up both good and bad memories.

He told about looking out over his father's field when he was a boy, seeing the stems of the cowpeas standing straight up with the pods sticking out at right angles, and knowing that he would soon be out in the field, under the hot summer sun, picking those pods. It was backbreaking work. Then he would spend HOURS shelling out the peas. Watching those Mississippi Silver peas grow and mature in the garden this year reminded him of that set of chores that he had dreaded as a boy.

However, after he'd shelled out the mature peas, he knew that they would have the flavor that was missing from the black-eye peas available in stores. The Mississippi Silvers were the "real thing." He had missed that flavor, and it turns out that a good way to get it is to grow your own.

I didn't have that particular childhood experience, but the first time I grew and prepared Pigott Family cowpeas, I knew that I wouldn't be going back to the bagged black-eye peas from the grocery store anytime soon. Luckily, even though I can grow only a couple of quarts of (dried) peas in my little garden, the farm where Joe and I volunteer on Saturdays grows plenty (this year it was Colossus, but that variety is still pretty good).

For a lot of people, beginning to grow some of their own food is a response to economic difficulties (either present or anticipated) or to concern over environmental problems related to large-scale agriculture, but there are some good, positive reasons for growing your own, too. One of those is the reward of exceptional flavor. Another, for some, is a childhood memory brought to life.

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