Oh to stand in the garden before sunrise, picking peas that will grace one of my favorite springtime meals: new potatoes and garden peas in a cream sauce, seasoned with mint. This year only the amount of new potatoes I want to sacrifice will limit me. The tall telephone peas have reached the 7-foot mark, and each vine has dozens of pods, each with six or seven peas stuffed with sweetness and delight.
I’d never grown potatoes before coming to Strawdog. Gladys, a grandmother figure who cussed like a sailor and taught me how to pluck the down off geese, talked about “graveling for potatoes.” I’d never heard the expression. You reach your hand under the plant (after it flowers, indicating that fruit exists below), and steal some of the small, new potatoes. Don’t take too many! Three or four small potatoes from each plant; you know you’ll come back for more.
I’ll have a salad with my dream spring meal too. Lettuce still grows, but has started throwing up a central flower stalk and some of the older leaves, near the stem, exude the bitter latex wild lettuce has in excess. If I trim each leaf near the base, then the rest of the leaf tastes sweet. Now that the daylilies, hemerocallis fulva, have begun blooming, they cap my salads instead of tomatoes, that will come later.
Do you put daylily blossoms in your salad? Or maybe you’ve made a salad exclusively with daylilies. Talk about color! If you grow different hybrids and don’t use poisons, you can serve an exclusively beautiful salad, unique to your flower garden.
I told a young gardener with a new nursery she could eat the daylilies, and demonstrated their goodness, to her delight. The next time I saw her, she said she told her four children about eating the blossoms, and they proceeded to sample them all. They preferred her most expensive daylily, Catherine Woodbury. She said they claimed it had the sweetest flavor.
Such pleasure to hold a daylily flower in your hand and pluck the petals from the stamens, then drop the stamens and pedicel in the compost bucket. It feels like an adult version of “he loves me, he loves me not.” The petals stay crisp longer than lettuce, but I still refrigerate the blossoms until I use them. Truthfully, usually I make a mad dash to the garden just as I prepare to serve the salad. Folks tend not to want to try the flower, they scrinch up their faces, but once they do, they feel equally surprised at the flavor and texture, crisp and fresh, just like lettuce. They become instant converts.
When the day has come to a close, the last peas blanched and packed in bags for the freezer, eyes too tired to read anymore, I lie on my bed in the summer kitchen, with katydids filling the background, the jagged hum of summer, and watch the fireflies illuminate the sweet gum tree with flickering light. I could be back in Superior, Wisconsin, walking home in the dark from playing with the neighborhood kids, trying to catch fireflies and immortalize them on my body.