Victory Gardens

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I am one of those annoying people who are always trying to find the silver lining in every cloud. So while I readily admit that the world is indiscriminately experiencing a horrific crisis, I am also trying to find some positive outcomes, or at least discover encouraging realizations.

This current global situation, I believe, has brought people closer together; social distancing notwithstanding. It has brought us all down to the same psychological level. We are all scared and confused and wary. We have all become a lot more knowledgeable about the nature of viruses. I personally, know way more than I ever wanted to about Corona viruses! Our collective interest has been drawn away from current trends, the weather, celebrity stunts and to some degree; politics. Instead of checking the weather forecast, we are checking daily stats; active cases, death tolls and survival rates.

Who would have thought, at the beginning of this year that our known worlds would have been so turned upside down, our priorities so derailed, our lives all on hold? Who would have guessed that toilet paper would be the coveted item of the year, a status symbol, a hoarded treasure?

When did this become an acceptable greeting? “How are you? Do you have enough toilet paper?” I recently had a package of 6 rolls on my back seat  and I had to leave my car unattended in a parking lot for a while. I started to walk away, then returned and threw my jacket over the package, not wanting to tempt any desperate passerby to smash my window to get at it! Seriously!

It is an odd sign of the times that I no longer feel self-conscious wearing my face mask and purple Nitrile gloves out in public, on the few occasions I’ve had to venture there. And neither do I suspect all the other anonymous masked citizens of nefarious intentions.

I have a wonderful friend who is making colorful masks by the dozens and donating them to food pantries, community kitchens, nursing homes and other places that do not have enough to go around. My husband is donating pizza gift cards anonymously (Oops! Until now) to the local ER, ambulance service, Police and Fire Dept. He’s bringing groceries to food banks and donating to other important humanitarian needs. So many heroes are emerging from the ashes of disaster… silver linings…

Many families are spending more time together, our lives have slowed down and we have to be more thoughtful about everything we do. We have all had to become more creative about how to navigate in these unprecedented times. How do we adequately teach our children at home? How do we make supplies on hand last as long as possible? How do we get by without seeing friends, family and loved ones for holidays and other special occasions? It’s a lot to cope with. I hope some of the creativity within us lingers long after the present necessity for it. That would be a silver lining!

I think this pandemic, this great leveler; has made our whole generation more humble than any church sermon, localized natural disaster or economic crisis ever could. It has made us all feel helpless, defensive and vulnerable as a culture. Maybe there is some good in that. It has united everyone in the war against Covid-19, a common enemy. Regardless of political affiliation, economic status, race, religion or any other denominators, it has untied us all. Isn’t that a silver lining?

Previous generations had World Wars, the Spanish Flu and other similar atrocities to keep them from being too arrogant, immediately gratified and self-assured. I think, at least I hope, anyone living through this catastrophe; will forever carry some of these lessons with them. The survivors will surely carry the cautionary tales to their grand and great grandchildren.

For Christmas, 2019, my son Gabriel gave me two books:

The first; Victory in the Kitchen gives a brief overview of social deprivations during and after WWII followed by many ‘adapted’ recipes that helped people try to maintain a sense of normalcy in their diets, if nothing else. Recipes typically detail how to make favorite dishes with limited or non-existent ingredients and substitutions. It was very interesting and in times like these, the content was strangely relevant once again.

The second; The Wartime Kitchen and Garden is a much more comprehensive and in-depth history of life in Great Britain, leading up to, during and after WWII. It gives a fascinating look at programs that sustained the citizens on a day-to-day basis. Details of allotment assignments, food vouchers, radio programs with gardening and cooking ideas are included. As well as first hand recollections of ‘Land Girls’ and others whose lives were devoted to working directly in the effort to make what food and other commodities Britain had and could produce as a nation, last and sustain its population during those challenging times.

One recurring theme was that no one could get by on their own. People had to share resources and ideas to get by. As if having your country torn apart by war and your loved ones sacrificing their lives on front lines was not enough…

Previous to the lead-up to the war, Britain only produced about 10% of its own food, relying on imports to make up the balance. In a short period of time, supply lines including railway and shipping were severed. They were caught quite unprepared to deal with the consequences of that situation, but through dramatic implementations, they prevailed.

As an avid cook and gardener, with a passion for history, these books were perfect for me. While I understood the basics of Victory Gardens and Food Rationing; reading the many firsthand accounts made the situation all the more real to me. The timing of these gifts, which I absorbed in small nightly infusions for several weeks after the holidays, could not have been more appropriate. This insight helped me prepare mentally for the current Covid-19 crisis and the shortcomings in the grocery stores and using what we had on hand instead of venturing out unnecessarily. This has let to some twists on regular menu combinations and has created some new favorites. Silver lining?

It reminded me that as a society, we’ve only recently had such luxuries as disposable napkins, towels, diapers and yes; toilet paper. It made me think about what people ‘did before’ and what measures we could reasonably take now to make-do.

I remember seeing bread bags, hanging on the clothesline when I would visit my grandparents’ home. My frugal grandmother would wash them out and re-use them until they wore out. Boxes of food storage bags which we now take for granted, did not really exist at that time and people used covered bowls and other containers to store leftover food. They used cloth napkins at the table and real towels in the kitchen for cleanup.

We were a lot more eco-friendly as a society then, even if unintentionally, and maybe, if nothing else, we can learn to be more so through this current crisis. Maybe some habits can be changed for the better, forever, for the future…silver lining?

I actually really enjoy using cloth napkins, and they don’t take up much room in the laundry. It makes the meal seem more special somehow.

Our Carrots from Last Seasons’ Garden

My Grandson Calvin, Loved this Carrot Man we Grew

I grew up listening to stories from parents and grandparents, of the depression, rationing and Victory Gardens. I heard about lawns and labored-over prize rose gardens being torn out and turned into potato and turnip patches. In Britain, local and national parks, ball fields and school yards were turned into huge community gardens. As a child, my immediate family had vegetable gardens on and off, more as a hobby than a necessity. My grandparents always had a good-sized patch in the yard set aside for food production though. They remembered. As an adult, I have always tried to grow at least some of our fruits and vegetables. Even when I had to do it in buckets!

Our Herbs Hanging to Dry

I’ve always had a deep-seated sense of well-being knowing we have jars of preserves in the pantry and packages of frozen vegetables in the freezer; extending the summer’s harvest until the next garden season.

Most days, we have at least one item in at least one meal, from our last seasons’ garden, even as we are planning this seasons’. We always have herbs hanging in the kitchen that enhance our daily menus. I love to share the fresh bounty with friends and neighbors, in season, and various preserves as gifts at holidays.

 

Cordial Made from our Raspberries, Rhubarb and Peaches, Gifted at the Holidays

Dilly Bean Gifts

It is an ultimate pleasure to watch as our grandchildren feast on fresh peas, cherry tomatoes and green beans they have harvested themselves from the gardens. They gorge on blueberries, strawberries and raspberries right off the plants. This is what I hope they will remember.

Sprouting Seeds for Salads, Sandwiches, Stir Fries and Smoothies

If you can’t plant a garden, perhaps sprouting  some edible seeds on your kitchen counter will not only contribute a bit of fresh nourishment to your meals, but will also enhance your sense of self-sufficiency. A garden, any garden, even in a jar; is hope. And hope is Victory!

In the midst of this terrible pandemic, I am counting my blessings. We have reached out to friends and neighbors to offer anything we have in abundance that they may need. Friends and neighbors have returned the offers. In times like these, you really discover who your friends are. I am planting seeds and I am watching what grows, whether food or goodwill. Both are equally nourishing.

Typically, and sadly it seems, we humans do not learn much from our mistakes, history continues to repeat itself. I’d like to think, that for anyone who lives through this Covid-19 ordeal at least, we can take some lessons forward and be kinder to each other and gentler on the earth. Because in the end, what else really matters?

So, in my Victory Garden, I will plant more foods that can be kept with minimal care; like carrots, I will plant Hope for the future and Gratitude for all the kindness people are showing each other. Supposedly, we shall reap what we sow!

Herb Vinegars Preserve a Bit of Summer, to use Throughout the Winter