Friday, March 6, 2009

Circle of Women

In Idaho, where we moved when I was around 8, asparagus grew wild along the ditches.  Mom would save brown  paper bags and we'd all pile in our big old boat of a car to gather and pick it. All along the irrigation ditches, sides of roads and the borders of fields, the ferny, feathery plant was easy to spot.  If it was groomed every 3 days, the same plant would produce a new crop every third day or so for weeks if it got enough water.

Families could get territorial if they had a favorite area that they kept groomed and someone else got to it before they could. There was so much,  I don't think a feud ever started. 

Sometimes if a farmer had an especially prolific patch on the borders of his field, if you were polite and asked, he would let you pick. Most the time though, mom would drive real slow on the side of the road with her flashers on and we would hop on and off either the trunk or the hood of the car with our bags, snap off as many tender green shoots as we could and hop back on till we saw the next patch.  When our big bags were about half full, we would go home with a pile of fresh asparagus. 

I always liked the skinny, tall, tender stems best.  We would have some for dinner once in while.  Back then, vegetables were cooked till they were limp, grey and lifeless, so I never learned to like it very well, until as an adult I finally tasted it lightly steamed.  It was an unbelievable bright green, firm and the flesh tasty, flavorful.  WOW!  Usually mom, my aunt and grandma would process them by pickling them in a quart jar.  Spices, vinegar, then sealed properly by a boiling water bath in the big blue speckled canning kettle.  

It was wonderful to open a jar in the winter.  I still get a nostalgic yearning to see rows and rows of gorgeous, tasty, flavorful, colorful jars of jam, peaches, asparagus, tomato sauce, salsa on the shelf.  Sometimes it would take me longer than it should have to fetch a jar for mom, as I would get lost in the palette of textures and colors that came to life as the light was turned on. 

The jars weren't only preserved summer bounty.  Not just practical, needed food for winter.  
Part of their essence, laughter, friendship, love and nurturing care for their families was also sealed under that gold sealed lid, tightened with a ring.  It was hard, hot, sweaty, once-you-started-you-couldn't-stop work, but in the company of a circle of women and children, who shared the work along with the bounty, it didn't seem like a dreadful task.  Not exactly fun, but in my memory, recalling their expressions, extremely satisfying work, with beautiful results.  

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