Bonkers for Borlotti. Monday, April 27, 2020

Between seasons. Some of the summer veg are planted: first out the stable door were the tomatoes purchased at Tomatomania in mid March, I rushed to plant them out so that they would be in the ground when people started arriving for the birthday celebrations. As it turned out, all that arrived was the pandemic. And that visit to Tomatomania was one of my last excursions into the world beyond this yard and garden. But the tomatoes are oblivious to coronavirus though always susceptible to other viruses. Which is why I rotate the beds each year, though really it should be at least two years. Now growing strongly are: Paul Robeson, Better Boy, Lucky Tiger, Flamme, Jetsetter, all chosen hastily but according to some tenuous logic. Paul Robeson in my experience – perhaps this simply means in my garden, its soil, the microclimate – is the best black tomato ever. Rich and seductive like the singer’s voice. Have had good experience too with the hybrid Jetsetter, excellent disease resistance, and produces very early (just as well because I missed out on my usual preferences for early tomatoes: Early Girl and Stupice). 

 Already it has a cluster of three largish green tomatoes. 

And also Flamme (aka Jaune Flamme), a French heirloom that is a gorgeous persimmon color, very productive and super tasty. The old stand-by Better Boy, productive and good disease resistance. On Eleanor’s recommendation I got Lucky Tiger, a cherry tomato new to me, but grown last year by her son-in-law, David. It is often difficult to tell when green-type tomatoes are ripe, but apparently as these ripen the dark green exterior turns yellow with red stripes. I got Juliet (now against the back fence) because I remember Becky growing it a few years ago – very delectable clusters of large grape jewels or jujubes (and disease resistant). Good, I figure, for semi-drying and preserving in olive oil.

More recently one other has been added to the main bed: Dad’s Sunseta smallish golden hybrid. Eleanor gave me a number of seedlings, which to my shame I did not look after very well, leaving them outside to fend for themselves in the cold and rain. I planted one out a while ago, but it was too small and weak and soon got gobbled up. So I started nurturing one of the other plants, brought the pot in to the kitchen and moved it around to catch the sun, only transferring it to the outside when it was fairly robust. And then, when it had re-accommodated to the traumatic outer world I planted it out on the edge of the bed where it is jostled by arugula in full flowering mode and a brilliantly orange calendula. It seems happy and is growing well, loves being liberated from the pot.

What a relief – was dreading having to tell Eleanor that I killed all her plantlets.

And another has been added to the back fence – a yellow grape, brought by Craig, because it’s almost a permanent fixture in the garden – but I realize I have now a preponderance of grape tomatoes. It is planted on the southern end of the back fence, and I had to pull up some of Steve’s Phoenix nasturtiums to make way. But I left a couple of plants because they are so gorgeous climbing up the fence. Eventually the tomato will probably crowd the flower out, though you can never anticipate the law of the garden, the mores to which plants adhere, frequently indifferent to human intervention. 

Oh well, I love that you never really know how it will play out, how the different tomatoes might go together, in the garden and in a salad, say, what will work well for sauces, grilling, dehydrating … And even though I say that certain varieties have always worked well for me, in fact that’s no guarantee… the stars of yesteryear might well turn out to be failures this year. 

Beans too have been planted. First, in the long bed that runs along in front of the fig tree to the back fence bush borlottis, sometimes called cranberry beans. I love them. The pods are so appealing, the palest green segueing into cream, streaked erratically in tones ranging from vermilion to a hint of blush. The beans too. Though all of this is anticipation, at the moment they are small green plants, six inches high with thick green heart shaped leaves, planted along with the beets and carrots. 

When we were in Bologna I would buy great piles of them, bring them back to our Airbnb, pod and cook them in a base of olive oil with some chopped onion, garlic, carrot and celery, then simmer in stock till creamy and delectable. Now that we have duck fat my thoughts turn to borlottis creamed and ducky… I haven’t grown bush beans for years because they take up more space than pole beans which can be grown vertically. BUT I found last year that my pumpkins and tromboncini grown vertically in front of the espaliered fig, on the structure that Peggy and I so carefully erected, were blocking the fig from sunlight during a crucial part of the day

before the fig was planted, oh gardens, so impermanent and unpredictable, always turning the table on one

and the climbing cucumbers were blocking the espaliered apples. So this year it’s bush beans all round. A mix of colors from Renee’s Garden Seeds have been planted in front of the fig, shishito peppers in front of the apple.

and where the pole beans usually grew (and the favas now are, coming to an end alas)

I plan on growing vertically an experimental variety of tromboncini from Row 7, developed by the chef, breeder and seedsman combo of Dan Barber, Michael Mazourek and Matthew Goldfarb. I’m a big fan of Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate: Notes on the Future of Food. The cucumbers I plan to grow on tepee-type-structures in the bed I’m working on today.

A few other tiny summer plants are in the ground: a striped Italian variety of zucchini from steve, called cocozelle, and three ichiban eggplant, from Craig (all in the most westerly middle bed, shared with an habanero chile, two extant  Alpine  strawberries, jostling up against an exuberant azure blue lobelia, two kale plants, a few chard, some blue flowering borage around the edges).

and here’s a close up

I will try again growing a few squash, pumpkin and melon in the front garden in among the flowers. Hasn’t worked before, but I have an idea why and so will try again.

Made a soupy stew in the afternoon after soaking great northern beans overnight. A little bacon to start it all off but mostly beans and veg – chard, kale, a good handful of oregano and fresh carrots from the garden joined bought onions, leek, celery and garlic. What really gave it an edge was the home made vegetable stock, browning the tomato paste, and adding the bag of cheese heels that have accumulated in the fridge.

I set the soup out on trays for a Classic Hollywood dinner. With crusty bread baked in the morning, and a glass of wine. 

First we watched Better Things  – a particularly good episode (Batceanera) of this show which Jeffrey and I both love (and so does Adrian Martin). Pam Adlon is a genius. And then, our spoons laid to rest and hunger sated and all eyes free to focus on the telly, we prepared to be enthralled by each detail of the mise en scene, every camera move and cut, and the knock-out performance of Rita Hayworth in Gilda. This was one of the first films that galvanized me into writing – in a series of notes that somehow circulated in the small film community in Melbourne back in, I think, 1976. I was recently asked to submit the ‘Notes on Gilda’ for a publication but they had disappeared along with all memory of what was in them. Though I did find a letter I received in response from Doug Ling – it was about six pages of tiny handwritten outrage at the feminist distortion I’d inflicted on a great classic. His letter was, in my view then and now, bonkers, but it was written with real passion and engagement and reminded me of a time when there was so much excitement in the air around film studies, fueled by much righteous declaiming and denouncing and endless announcing of new paradigms. I’m sure there is still excitement in the air for young people, but now I’m more interested in writing about the garden and the environment than cinema. Still, though, watching those classic Hollywood movies sets the goosebumps rippling over my skin. If you’ve never seen it drop all the distractions you’ve concocted for getting through the isolation of the pandemic and Watch Gilda!

3 thoughts on “Bonkers for Borlotti. Monday, April 27, 2020

  1. I think we were all so energetic and impassioned about cinema in part because we didn’t have VHS yet — we couldn’t re-wind and re-watch — so we had to argue out every cut and every shot and every line of dialogue — memorizing the films as we watched them — making notes in the dark — traveling to obscure cinemas in the outer reaches of London to see a double bill of B movies from the 1950s… it was very exciting, in part because it was made special by being hard to access. There’s a different kind of access now, and I’m sure in all sorts of ways it’s a big improvement, to be able to view and re-view — but seeing Gilda in a run-down cinema for the first time was something else! Unforgettable.

  2. Also — solitary quarantine makes room for further reflection — we were so passionate because: being obliged to memorize the unfolding of a film, to take it in and hold it in our memories, merges it with our sense of self, our subjectivity, or our fantasies. So your differing interpretation challenges something I hold very close — my own remembered version of the film. xo L.

  3. Leslie, thankyou for these reflections – yes, I think you are right, and you’ve got thinking about what might link the pleasures of cinema-going and gardening. There is something about seeing a film in a theatre on the big screen that is somatic, like it becomes imprinted on your sensory memory – in a way that doesn’t happen for me, watching on a small screen in daylight. Gardening too takes over the body. Of course other experiences open these doors too …

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