by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
If I were to place one each of the following seeds in the palm of my hand, the space covered would be negligible: cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, squash, egg plant, pepper, okra, tomato and corn. Yet if I plant them, cultivate them and harvest them I have the makings of meals and a gloriously tasteful handout from nature.

 In the palm of my hand the space needed, if they crowded together, would be within the circumference of a nickel. The cabbage and broccoli seeds are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The zucchini and squash seeds are football shaped but colorless, lifeless, and boring and need the space of a flattened aspirin.  The egg plant and pepper seeds look like bits of dandruff and if they were sprinkled on a coat collar one would believe them to be dandruff. Okra is a basketball but a wee one with a dark dot where life resides.  A tomato seed is so insignificant in looks and size that it takes the faith of St Paul to plant one. The corn is an isosceles triangle the size of a front tooth but so shriveled, wrinkled and corpse looking that it stretches credulity to believe life lives within. But in the ground, they all come to life and have but one motive, purpose and will: to mature and reproduce, characteristics without which gardeners would sit frustrated holding a rusted hoe.  

Cabbage: it is a lamination of leaves packed fist-tight into a ball of nutrition so rich that Chinese once packed a room from floor to ceiling with them in fall to help tide them over the winter. Broccoli: It’s a green tree of small stature that births from its heart a collection of buds that, when cut produces a delightful dish. And when the parent is cut, children appear in miniature and appear again and again to succeed the parent.  It’s a vegetable Bushes scorn but liberals love. Zucchini: a squash that is green outside, off- white inside and is eaten stuffed, fried, buttered, and as an ingredient in bread. If any agency reacted as fast as it grows there would be fewer complaints of the dead weight and moribund movement of bureaucracy.

 Eggplant: It produces, if one can get it to produce, a beautiful flower and silky pear- shaped fruit. It must be related to the potato because the potato beetle is attracted to it. Peppers, sweet and hot: They are loyal. They grow when the weather is warm and they continue to grow until the frost blights them. They enrich and add their unique and pungent taste to things. Okra: A pod with a thousand seeds and with parents who are models of preparation for Judgment Day. Its singularity of purpose exceeds the martyrs’. Day after day it grows and blooms, and the blossoms die and their ovaries become seeded pods and the pods in a few days are ripe and the cycle continues until frost ends it. Man for his meal cuts the tender young with the insouciance he toasts bread.

 Tomato: The Marilyn Monroe of vegetables. From a hiccup of a seed comes with cultivation fruit that gives soul to a sandwich, and taste and substance to chili, spaghetti, pizza and no end of foods. Like the beauty of a rose, its time is short once ripe. Corn: The backbone of nutrition. A grain will produce a stalk with two ears that contain a multitude of grains each of which must have a silk running from it to where it is exposed to pollen from the tassel. Corn is to the West what rice is to the East: the nutrition of a peasant and the grain of the gambler and player of markets.

Sometime in August I have at hand the products of all the seeds above-mentioned and in addition onions and garlic, which I grow from sets instead of seeds. And with these products I mix a meal. I gather all the vegetables and confront them with a cutting board on which I first chop cabbage and arrange a nest so to speak in an electric skillet. Into the nest I add chopped zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, okra, sweet peppers and hot peppers, onions, garlic, broccoli and tomatoes. I add a half cup of water and over the mixture I drizzle olive oil. I place two ears of corn on the cob on top and turn the thermostat to simmer and relax. When the vegetables have slumped from steaming and most of the water has boiled off, the vegetables lie in a liquid of their juices and olive oil and the meal is ready. For years I have kneaded and baked my bread. It doesn’t shrink in the toaster and has body and texture and taste worthy of eating with the meal.

When I was younger and more active, I ladled out a healthy helping and sprinkled it liberally with shredded mozzarella. But now I am content with the helping unadorned, two ears of corn and a slice of bread.    It is a marvelously colorful meal, a meal that is a miracle and a marvel to me, for I have planted it, cultivated it, harvested it and cooked it. It is marvelous in other respects. The meal is fresh, organic, tasty, nutritious, cheap, and satisfying.  The miracle and marvel is that this meal comes from such insignificant, improbable, hopeless, inarticulate, items that anyone unaware of their potential would consign to a landfill, where unbeknownst to the consignor they would probably germinate and produce, if not buried under subsequent garbage.

 The miracles one reads about such as the Lord walking on water and raising the dead, he might question. But no one who has planted that thimble full of seeds and tended those seeds to maturity doubts the miracle of seeds.  The miracle of miracles is that seeds dug from the graves of Pharaohs, I have read, have germinated after three thousands years of waiting for their chance of resurrection. I know first hand that tomato seeds, saved and shelved for ten years, will germinate readily, grow and produce tomatoes. Gardening is being in touch with miracles. 

 * * * Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 earlier this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.