In December, most of the vegetable beds are empty. The beds of strawberries and garlic have a few spots of green emerging from their strawed blanket. The asparagus and rhubarb have been cut to the ground and manured for next Spring. The early snow is stubborn stunting any harvest attempt. At that time of year any vegetables that we can harvest from the garden are a rare treat. The fact that they have survived multiple frosts and snows makes them even more delicious. A few carrots can be pulled as well as radishes.
Radishes do not hold up nearly as well as carrots. If the ground freezes hard their tough exterior becomes mushy unlike carrots, which just become sweeter. The few radishes that hold up have a mutant quality that comes from staying too long in the ground as if it no longer understood that it was supposed to grow in a symmetrical roundish form. In the north, anything that can be harvested is a wonder in the winter.
But in the south, in the Keys, where Juana and I have been staying for over a month, the harvest is very different with a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Every Monday at the farmer’s market we have been getting fresh, locally harvested tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and the like. At the supermarkets blueberries and strawberries have been on sale and as they arrive from a distance of hundreds of miles rather than thousands their flavor is fresh.
You don’t have to go far from home, however, to find things to munch on. Growing on the beach, in front of the house we are staying at, are big swaths of sea purslane, a relative of the purslane we find up north far away from the sea. It’s much lager in size than the purslane growing at my house, tastes a bit salty and can be bitter but still quite tasty for a quick snack.
The best things are up high in the form of coconuts and bananas. It seems like it is the season for coconuts as landscapers are hauling away garbage cans of coconuts for use and disposal. Some of the more enterprising residents have stands of coconuts for sale at 50 cents and up. At the resorts it is rare to see a single coconut in a tree whereas residents are less meticulous in their removal. In the past, I have helped my friend Brian remove coconuts from his tree. Now his ladder is too short and the tree too high for me to assist him.
So during our trip I have resorted to dumpster diving for coconuts as Juana likes their water fresh. On one of my trips I found a huge bunch of very green bananas sitting on top of palm fronds and coconuts. As no one was looking, I strapped them to my bike and peddled off. Juana was very excited about getting a bunch of baby bananas though had no idea how to hasten their ripening. We first tried putting them in a paper bag, as we do for green tomatoes but that had no effect. We then put them in the sun and they started to turn. We should have known as when we drove past a Chiquita banana plantation decades ago, certain bananas in trees had large white bags around them; most likely to delay further ripening before being cut down for shipment. Juana remembers bananas being ripened in the sun as a child in Guatemala.
Our stash of coconuts has gotten low and we are almost out of bananas; I guess it is time to come home.