My parents are avid gardeners. My front yard’s official nickname is “The Jungle;” far from a traditional lawn, it consists of beds spilling over with sweet smelling flowers, earth boxes and trellises galore, plants of all shapes and sizes tucked in pots of a similar description, and a towering mango tree as the centerpiece. Besides the mango, my parents have planted an array of other foods, including starfruit, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, various herbs, papaya, peppers, pineapple, lemons, figs, eggplant, and spinach. (We used to have a grapefruit tree, as well, but tragically extended exposure to salt spray ended its life prematurely.) As you can imagine, growing up with access to The Jungle’s bounty has been amazing for a number of reasons.
The first of these is that I couldn’t help but learn to appreciate where my food is coming from. Each day, I walk past the garden to notice the minute developments that lead to a fruitful harvest. The freshly laid compost dissolves into soil, turning it a deep, rich brown. The butterflies and bees go about their business, finding sustenance for themselves while ultimately doing the same for us. Buds appear and burst into bloom. My favorite of these were always the broccoli flowers. The tiny yellow blossoms are perfectly edible and taste much like their namesake, if a little sweeter. As a child I reveled in the novelty of eating a flower and would always pick a few as I passed. With the exception of broccoli, whose flowers follow its usual harvesting stage, most fruits and vegetables swell into existence as the flowering stage draws to a close. Their colors grows more vibrant with each passing day until, finally, they are ready for picking. Playing witness to this process brings a thrill to what would otherwise be “just food.” Additionally, you grow to see the beauty of food in its many stages, not to mention the grander beauty of nature’s dynamic systems.
The Jungle did not just alert me to the splendor of food’s maturation process. It also proved to me just how much better food is when it’s fresh. I cannot impart to you the ecstasy that is picking a Rudolph’s-nose-red cherry tomato off the vine and popping it straight in your mouth. It is truly one of the best tasting things in existence. Once you sample the rarity that is broccoli adorned with flowers, simply steamed with a touch of salt, you can never really go back to store-bought. It’s so tender and flavorful that experiencing it completely alters your perception of how broccoli should taste. I can’t tell you how amazing a salad can become when you’ve plucked the spinach, peppers, and tomatoes composing it minutes before. It’s brighter, crunchier, better in every way imaginable. I really feel for those who have never experienced this privilege that I’ve taken for granted for so many years.
As I run to the kitchen to grab a handful of cherry tomatoes, my appreciation is renewed once more. When I eventually leave my parent’s house, I feel I simply must take the time to cultivate at least a small garden of my own. I certainly have an excellent pair of teachers to help me get started. I’ll have a piece of The Jungle with me, and I will feast upon its fruits.