Blessed is the fruit or vegetable who wears its color in its name. BLUEberries. YELLOW squash. RED lettuce. BLACKberries. And my own personal hall of famer: GREEN beans.
When I eat a fresh green bean I am transported to teepees of lush green leaves under a blue sky and there is red dirt beneath my bare feet. It sounds like blue jays and mourning doves and it smells like Johnson grass. I am six. And I have never been closer to my station on the food chain.
Summer announces itself in many ways in the south. Dripping humidity and the raucous cacophony of locusts and katydids come to mind. But for a true southerner, summer chimes in the gardens and the plentiful farmer’s markets in a bellwether of fresh vegetables.
We feel our vegetables. We wax emotional over our butter beans, squash, and tomatoes. There is a visceral nostalgia for the vegetables eaten by our families for generations that causes us to approach a basket of fresh tomatoes or a bag of freshly shelled field peas with reverence. We KNOW how long it took to shell those peas. On a front porch somewhere, and rarely alone, we have pulled apart the tight-lipped pea pods with our thumbs until the edge of our thumbs are sore, raking down the length of their wet centers as the peas fell into the bowls resting on our laps.
When you understand how much goes into something, you naturally appreciate it more–and that causes you to enjoy it more. Plowing up the rows, chopping up the clods of dirt, counting out the seeds into the hills, pushing the dirt back over the seeds, sprinkling fertilizer, keeping the dirt broken up, and the bugs at bay (it was my childhood job to identify bean beetles, fold the leaf in half over them, and squish them–such is my personality that I got a kick of accomplishment from this) –all of these steps were merely a prelude to picking the crop.
Add to these physical labors the mystical element of praying for rain. The dirty little secret about gardening is that it can be stressful. Daddy would gaze Galileo-like up into the skies whenever a rumble of thunder could be heard, listening intently before pronouncing sadly, “Sounds like they’re getting rain over in Helena…or Columbiana…or Wilsonville.” Always it seemed it was raining somewhere else during a dry spell. But when it did rain, it was a thing of great happiness, the drops of rain and the smell of it were unforgettable. It meant there would be more vegetables on the table, and for mother to can and freeze for the winter months.
So when Mr. Wu surprised me last week with his chicken and green beans, I was transported back to the garden. They were delicious. The crisp tender green beans were teaming with the sweet greenness of summer–of this summer. Of all summers.
Robert Frost was so wrong. Green can stay gold.