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Living History: Around the globe, through the ages, all in my garden

Published May 19, 2013 5:12 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's said there are two things money can't buy: True love and home-grown tomatoes.

In accordance with local gardening tradition, I planted my tomatoes around Mother's Day. The tender starts have a better-than-fair shot at becoming the makings of gazpacho, BLTs and salsas. Or savored fresh-picked.

Contemplating this year's garden — garlic, beans, peas, squash, lettuce etc. — I wonder how much is native and what is non-native. (The term "illegal alien" popped into my head, but it seems silly to ask my curled parsley to see its papers.)

I'm pretty sure of the provenance of much of this year's crops. For instance, about 3,000 years ago, the first agriculture in Utah was based on a maize/bean/squash diet.

Maize, or corn, is an all-American, native-born, new-world invention. Before Columbus, Europeans couldn't have imagined anything as improbable as a corn cob. "Popped" corn blew their minds.

I used to be puzzled by references to corn in the Bible, like when Jesus "went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands."

This is where deep dives into the Oxford English Dictionary come in handy. In English, corn means not only grain, such as wheat, rye and barley (the stuff Jesus' apostles were snarfing), but also anything that is "granular," like salt. Hence "corned beef" merely means salted beef.

I am growing green beans this year ­— a boring choice considering the possibilities. There are pinto, red, white, navy, kidney and lima, along with hundreds of other varieties that are painted, piebald or striated. What you think of when you think "bean" is likely American.

There are, however, old world versions of "bean." For instance, the fava and soybean, but neither is any good in a burrito.

Interestingly, both American and Old World bean plants are heliotropic, meaning that during the day their leaves follow the sun and at night, they go into a folded "sleep." I will watch for that.

Personally, I don't understand why people grow "squash" when they can grow squash. By "squash" I mean the green godzillas that are only stopped from overrunning solidly Republican neighborhoods in Utah Valley by the onset of winter.

Squash, on the other hand, display more diversity than a central city Democratic caucus. In its infinite varieties you can bake it in ratatouille, stuff it in ravioli and substitute it for spaghetti. The same fruit (and it is a fruit) can be filling for pies or carved into grotesques on pagan holidays to scare children.

In its gourd form, it can house birds, exfoliate dead skin or simply be something aesthetically pleasing to look at. It also makes terrific kitchen utensils.

I am fairly certain that parsley is Old World. (The fact that it's called "Italian parsley" is a tip-off). But cilantro, also known as coriander, gives me pause. Often mistaken for parsley in supermarket fresh food sections, I can't imagine it without a Spanish accent.

It is solidly Old World. The Aztecs had their tamales without sprigs of cilantro.

Living close to Sugar House, which got its name from the fields of sugar beets which once blanketed the area, beets seemed like a good gardening idea. Around the Mediterranean, beets were valued for their leaves, and only in the 1800s did the root get its due. In fact, Swiss chard is essentially beet leaves without the beet.

The leaves on my beets, however, are unappetizing. They are battling some blight.

But my tomatoes and peppers are doing fine, which are the real reasons I plant a garden each year. Someone on Twitter posted: "Is anything sadder than eating store-bought tomatoes in winter?"

To which some quick thinker replied, "Yes. Eating them in summer."

Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist of The Salt Lake Tribune.






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