Potatoes have sustained nations. Now, the ones I planted myself sustain me. In the late spring Joe tilled the ground and returned with his arms frozen into the pose of a Hells Angels biker. It is hard to till ground in Mid-Ontario. I hesitate to call it Northern Ontario because of the respect I have for those who live in Timmins or Sudbury. Parry Sound area is North enough to make planting a vegetable garden an exercise in optimism. Well, we did. We planted potatoes, many varieties, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, garlic and onions. We planted some carrots too.
The summer was dismal. It rained all the time and a tornado descended on us once a week. One of them uprooted a twin-trunked poplar at the edge of the trail. Poplars are not very strong trees but still, it is disconcerting to see a wall of sod appear where the tree is upturned. All this time we fretted over our vegetable garden. We never once had to irrigate so that tells you something about the sunshine level all summer.
The garlic simply disappeared. We never found a trace of it. The peppers sulked and finally sent out a few measly specimens in August. The tomatoes grew large but most had to be picked green and ripened indoors. A squash, a cucumber here and there, two carrots, helped keep our spirits up.
The acid test would be the potatoes. Here they are – so different from those awful monsters covered in foil and baked in the oven. Aren’t they nice? We ordered heirloom species during the cold days of March and now for the first time ever I get to eat fingerlings, blue and red potatoes and to serve them with a superior smirk to my guests.
We did learn a few lessons. First, we needed to till the earth more. Potatoes like more aeriated soil. Second, we should have planted them further apart so they had room to grow bigger. Third, we should forget all about the other stuff and only plant potatoes. Joe does not agree with that but my peasant side comes out. I know I can buy tomatoes, onions and cucumbers for pennies at harvest time. However, nothing can duplicate the joy of munching those potatoes that my poor Irish ancestors depended on to survive – or to perish. I feel like calling down the centuries, “See, I can make potatoes grow too! You would consider the blue ones funny looking. But those are the South American ones, the original ones. I plant them to say thank you to the mountain people who grew them in the wet climate and who ate them to stay alive.”
My guests had lamb shoulder too, falling off the bone in a sauce of onions and garlic and the potatoes in a garlic and oregano and lemon juice sauce. No Irishman or South American could have asked for more. The guests dragged the serving plate this way and that mopping up the juice and did not leave one potato. I looked at my hands as I washed the dish late at night and thought of the cool earth into which I had pressed the potato segments, each with an eye to grow the green plant. I liked what my hands had done. (Joe eventually was able to open his fists and lower his hands but next year he swears we’ll ask the neighboring farmer to till that patch.)