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Fig Time (and theTerroir We Call Home)

Posted Aug 11 2013 6:18am
Figs are hanging heavy, full, and ripe right now on my secret tree, and I visit it often, the passersby in their speeding cars not even noticing me. (See Gone Figging on page 113 in my book .)

My older daughter loves figs, although this year they have a little bit of a different meaning in our home. We measure time by what's ready to be harvested, as in "I'll see you after Blackberries but before Cucumbers" (see A Scent, and Sense, That Smacks You on the Side of Your Head ) and we've known all year that she would be leaving for college right after Figs.  And so, it's now Figs.

"I'll miss collards," she told me recently. Yes, she will, both collards, the leafy green, and Collards, the time period. Collards grow here easily and abundantly, in this extraordinary foodshed of the southeastern United States, but they won't be back in the garden, ready for daily picking, for a little while yet. They are from a "terroir" that she is leaving. (See below for my take on this terroir that's as much a part of my daughters as their DNA.)

I asked her what she wants me to make for her this week before she leaves. She smiled and answered, "Butternut squash, with the maple syrup. You know. The way I like them." (We've not figured out how to make sorghum syrup yet, although we have much sorghum towering around our garden right now and bending often from the weight of goldfinches.) We had some butternut squashes already this summer, but more are littered all over the front garden, hiding under rambling vines and snarled around zinnias and zucchini plants, their pig tails brown, their flesh sure to be a gorgeous deep orange when I slice them open today as the sun slides south outside my kitchen window, yet again. And as my daughter prepares her palate to move north. 

And so it goes. And grows.

The Terroir I Call Home 
(excerpts form an article I was hired to write for the Georgia Restaurant Association a few years ago, during the time period known as Lettuces)

It wasn't long ago that I first dug my fingers into soil warmed from sudden days of abundant sunshine, assessing its ability to house carrots and potatoes, beets and onions. Sweet humus, my life composted, now fills the space where once hard, red clay had been, here somewhere between Longitudes 81 to 85 degrees West and Latitudes 30 to 35 degrees North.

This place called Georgia, from which I do not hail yet now call home, holds seeds that feed my family beneath the soil. It is where I have tasted a tomato picked with the heat of the day still on its back, and where I have held the living, beating heart of this land in my hands, and in doing so, have put down roots.

I wonder about this sense of place, a sense of belonging to a distinct geographic region, a sense of taste that sometimes defies description—and for which we long when we are not here. A sense of what the wine folks call terroir.

Terroir means not just the discernible taste of specific geographic characteristics such as the length of the day, the slope of the land, and the mineral content of the soil, but also the length of conversations, the meandering slope of memory, and the content of relationships. It can mean not just nuance that you taste, but that you feel, deep in your being.
I kneel on the wheat straw path beside my garden beds, and snip the last of the lettuce leaves, releasing the white, watery elixir of life they hold inside. I work my way around the garden, filling the bowl, walking and kneeling on paths that are slowly and continually decomposing into “black gold.”

I will eventually toss this enriched compost beneath the straw onto the beds and once more feed the plants that will feed my family, and my soul. I will taste the richness of this soil, this terroir, and the memory of this moment in the sun, and the intention with which I care for my little place of earth. And I will know that I am home.

And this powerful ability to finally define where it is that I call home is a surprise to me, a gift of "eating close to home" that I never expected.

And so, to you, reluctant gardeners who are thinking that perhaps it is time to put hands and hoes in that dirt beyond your door, I offer you encouragement. Find your way home. Plant your garden today. And discover your own unique terroir.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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