I grew up digging in the dirt. I remember passing through the picket fence that surrounded our garden multiple times per day to check on seedlings, pick a plum from the tree or help my dad shuck fresh corn for dinner.
During the summer months of my childhood, I would spend hours coaxing small streams of water down parched rows of corn. I watched as the water filled the cracks in the clay soil and then went trickling on. With my trowel, I would convince it to puddle at the end of the row and then set the timer for an hour to allow enough water to soak into the roots of the whole row of plants.
When it was time to bring in the harvest of tomatoes, peaches, corn and berries, I would pull a chair up to the counter and help my mom make jam, can produce and fill the deep freezer with the bountiful harvest.
I loved being in the kitchen and, except when the peach fuzz made my arms itch, didn’t complain about spending hours at a sink full of ice water slipping skins from the tomatoes or standing over the stove stirring a bubbling pot of hot fruit.
When I was eight years old, I won a red ribbon (second place!) at the state fair for my strawberry jam. I competed against my own mother (and even used her recipe), but somehow the judges felt like my preserves were the best. When they found out I was just a kid, they bought me a special “cookbook” to recognize my accomplishment
The irony of a “microwave cooking” book for a state fair winner still makes me smile.
My college years were full of friends, fun and a few experiments in the kitchen, but it wasn’t until I got married that I had my own garden and really got busy in my own kitchen. We rented a small 10’x10′ plot at the local community garden and spent our evenings weeding, harvesting and hunting squash bugs.
I married into a family that takes food seriously. My in-laws owned a kitchen specialty store, that we eventually purchased, ran for many years and sold. My mother-in-law left very big shoes to fill in the kitchen and my new husband was excited for me to start cooking actual meals. One day, several weeks into our new marriage, he informed me he didn’t want to eat PastaRoni anymore. “What,” I asked him, “did you think we were going eat then?”
I was able to assist local and national chefs in the kitchen of our cooking school and there I began to really learn my way around a kitchen. Night after night I watched them saute, chop and concoct. I was hooked. Armed with a few good recipes, I began experimenting, branching out and feeding my growing family everything from homemade croissants to ratatouille made wholly from our garden veggies.
While our professional life has shifted and we no longer own a retail shop, my heart can still be found in the kitchen and out among the rows of tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers in our backyard garden.