by Francesca Arniotes
I turned over the ground in my garden today, as I have for the last 39 years, the sound of the shovel, the smell of the dirt just exactly the same, going back decades more to childhood. There has always been a garden where I’ve lived, so the ritual of turning over the soil is centering – I would say grounding but to spare you the pun – and the repetitive action lends itself to mind wandering and reminiscences. I don’t believe I’ve told you this story.
When my grandparents were married in 1926, they honeymooned in Atlantic City for 2 days until their $3 bankroll ran out. The ring my grandfather put on Gram’s finger was little more than a cigar band. Their parents bought them a piece of land and in a couple of years, they built a house and dug a vegetable garden. They worked hard, struggling through the Great Depression and then the shortages during World War 2, until eventually becoming quite prosperous. That first wedding ring wore completely through after a number of years and was replaced by a modest, but more substantial, 12k gold band. On their fortieth anniversary, Grandpop gave Gram a beautiful ring – a wide 14k gold band with 14 small diamonds embedded all the way around it. For only the second time in her married life, she took off her wedding ring. She put on the new ring which must have symbolized not only an enduring love but also their journey through hard times to affluence. Still, they worked hard: he, running his meat market and she, making the home, always in the kitchen cooking or in the yard hanging laundry. In the spring through fall, they both worked in the garden.
When preparing food, my grandmother had the habit of peeling and prepping potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, peas and such directly into the sink. Then as she needed room, she would gather and scoop all the peelings up into a bowl with her hands and take it out to the compost pile on the corner of the garden. She moved like a whirlwind. My grandfather’s expectation, after years of hunger as a child and just barely enough as a young man, was to see his dinner table covered with bowls and platters of delicious hot food waiting for him when he walked through the door at 6:00 each night. It happened that at the end of one evening she saw that her wedding ring was not on her finger. The first thing she did was retrieve her old ring from her jewelry box and put it on. She managed to keep Grandpop from noticing for some time, while she searched high and low, wondering what could have happened to her diamond band. Alas, as days, weeks and months went by it appeared that the ring was really and truly gone.
Fast forward to late summer 1978. It was after supper. Gram and I were picking up pears and apples from the ground around the trees. Grandpop was working in the garden, pulling weeds and gathering vegetables that were ready. Suddenly he shouted, “Mae! Mae! Look what I found!” and he began laughing like a madman! He ran from the garden. We ran toward thim. “Look!”, he laughed. He was holding a carrot up by the green top. Embedded around the carrot was Gram’s ring!
We couldn’t believe it! We took it inside to the sink, cut the carrot to get the ring off and washed the dirt away. It was missing three diamonds and we put the whole story together. Gram must have slid the ring off her finger with the slippery vegetable scraps she was rubbing from her hands into the bowl and it was dumped onto the compost heap. It eventually made its way into the garden, unnoticed as the ground was turned over each spring. And then a dozen years later, in that spring of 1978, a tiny, tiny carrot seed was planted, and germinated, in just the right place while the ring was situated just the right way for the carrot to be able to grow through it to a size big enough that it wouldn’t slide off when someone pulled it from the garden. It’s an amazing story. But I saw it with my own eyes and I have the ring. Last year, I had the holes from the missing diamonds replaced with the birthstones of each of my children.
I plant carrots every year. Nothing dramatic has ever happened here. Except that we can put a seed or a piece of potato into the dirt and in return, the earth gives us food to eat. And I found a Lego once.
Here is our favorite way to enjoy carrots. It’s a Moroccan recipe.
Spicy Caramelized Carrots
Thinly slice 6 carrots and cook in a small pot with a quarter cup of water, a teaspoon of sugar, 3 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of paprika, covered, over medium low heat until the carrots lightly caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and cook another minute. In a small bowl, mix
¼ t salt. ¼ t granulated garlic, ¼ t cumin, ⅛ t cayenne pepper or hot paprika with enough olive oil to make a paste. Add as much as you wish to the carrots. Taste and add salt if needed. Garnish with minced parsley. Serve at room temperature.