|Tobey's metal art|
Tobey and I have been friends for 35 years. We started our nurseries at about the same time, in his case it was Meadowcroft Farm, and he grew pretty much the same plants as I do. Five years ago he closed his Oregon nursery and moved back to the East Coast where he and his wife Jayne are originally from. Often mutual acquaintances will ask about Tobey, how is he doing, and is he still pursuing his metal art? The answer is that he is good, and yes.
|The Chadsey home|
The Chadseys live in Pennsylvania now, just west of Philadelphia in the countryside. They're not far from some of my nursery customers, so Haruko, Saya and I made a “business trip” a couple of weeks ago – an expense write-off of course – to see how the couple is doing. We arrived at lunch time, a skill I have perfected for most of my life. Tobey manned the grill and Jayne did the rest, and believe me she is an accomplished cook and hostess. Let's examine what we had for lunch.
The first course was a cucumber soup which looked good, but I had to pass on that, and Saya quickly explained that “he likes cucumbers but they don't like him.” Funny, as a kid I ate them frequently without trouble, but somewhere as an adult even one bite will last with me for the rest of the day. They have burpless cucumbers now, I'm told, like that should solve the problem. I know, I have tried them too, but even they don't prevent the regurgitation. So I wasn't off to a good start with Jayne, but she graciously allowed me to skip the soup and go to the main course.
Everybody else lapped up their soup and reportedly it was quite good. I got to thinking about cucumbers, which no Greek salad does without. The vegetable, Cucumis sativus, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, and it is thought to have originated in India at least 4,000 years ago. Now it is grown all over the world and it is the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable. The Romans used cucumbers to treat bad eyesight, cure scorpion bites and they were carried around the waist by women wishing to have children. The Emperor Tiberius demanded to eat a cucumber every day, so in winter they were grown on movable frames to be exposed to the sun by day, then protected inside at night. The frames were glazed with “mirrorstones,” and according to Pliny they were “lapis specularis,” believed to be sheet mica.
Columbus brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494, so you see he wasn't just a taker. Later European trappers introduced them to native Indians in the Mid-west and Rocky Mountains and they immediately integrated them into their fields. Today China is the world's leader in cucumber production with over 50 million tons per year.
I like the sound of the name cucumber. When the vegetable reached the Middle East the Sumerians called it ukush, or something like that. During the Akkadian Empire a “q” was put in front and it became qissu. Later the ancient Greeks, who lacked both “q” and “sh” sounds, dubbed it kukuos, and after them the Latin name became cucumis, then in Old French it was coucombre.
The phrase “cool as a cucumber” is due to the inner flesh – which is 95% water – being at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside rind.
I have broken bread with Jayne on a number of occasions and I have never once seen her serve anything other than healthy. She lived for a number of years in Italy so she is familiar with the benefit of a Mediterranean diet. The soup that I passed on, as my wife explained later, is called gazpacho, a classic of Spanish cuisine which originated in the southern region of Andalusia. It is usually eaten cold, particularly in the hot summer, and indeed the temperature was in the mid-90's during our visit. There are a number of theories as to the origin of gazpacho, one that suggests that Romans combined stale bread, olive oil, water and garlic. During the 19th century the red gazpacho evolved when tomatoes were added to the ingredients, and that is how Jayne served it. In hind sight I truly regret that I didn't at least taste one spoonful – it was rude and wimpy of me.
Tobey was grilling chicken and vegetables, and as I said, I went straight to the main course. The onions and zucchini hit my plate first and I quickly sated my watering mouth. Zucchini, or Cucurbita pepo, is also a member of the cucumber and melon (Cucurbitaceae) family, but I have no problem with it. Not surprisingly zucchini is derived from the Italian zucchino meaning a “small squash,” while the word squash comes from the native American word skutasquash, meaning “green thing eaten green.” The zucchini, like all squash, originated in the Americas and it was Columbus who introduced it to Europe. What we grow and consume today was developed in the latter 1800's in northern Italy. Most of us would consider a zucchini to be a vegetable, but actually it is a fruit, a berry in the botanical sense, and the specific name of pepo refers to the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. The zucchini plant, while the family originated in the Americas, did not reach the United States until the 1920's, and the vector of dissemination was almost certainly by Italian immigrants.
Zucchini is easy to grow – in fact its fruit production overwhelms most home gardeners. The result is that one should also use it for various food preparations such as in soups or bread. Many people – even the poor – are too lazy for that, and in my experience: if I put 100 zucchinis on a table to give away for free to my employees, 99 will still remain a week later. That irks me of course, their spoiled demeanor, because I know that if I put 100 cans of Rock Star or Red Bull energy drinks on the same table they would all be gone in an hour.
One cannot eat a plateful of onions – just onions – but I can't imagine a barbeque without at least some. Old Chads stirred them in with the zucchini and I hogged up a good portion. The known world eats onions, and the name is from Latin unio for “oneness” or “unity.” In Brazilian Portuguese it is known as cebola; in Czech as cibule, in German as zwibel, in Romanian as ceapa and in Vietnamese as cu hanh.
The “onion,” or Allium cepa, is thought to have originated in central Asia, and it has probably been cultivated for over 6,000 years. As a food onions are easy to grow and are less perishable than other items. In Egypt they can be traced back to 3,500 B.C., and besides as a food they were an object of worship that symbolized eternity, probably because the onion's anatomy of a circle within a circle. They were placed in the pelvic area of mummies, while King Ramses IV – who died in 1160 B.C. – was entombed with onions in his eye sockets. In the Bible (Numbers 11:5) the children of Israel complain about their limited diet forced by the Exodus: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic.” Later the first Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower, but also discovered that strains of wild onions grew in America and were consumed by Native Indians.
I suppose I committed another faux pas when I grabbed a slice of delicious looking bread from a plate sitting in front of me. I ate it without pause because the crust was perfect and the interior was heavenly. Neither butter nor olive oil was necessary to accompany the wonderful bread. Nearby was a bowl of diced tomatoes, absolutely blood-red with succulence, and incorporated was some green stuff – I don't know, probably basil. Anyway I gobbled that up too. Jayne didn't say a word, but when Tobey followed suit she pleaded that the tomato concoction was supposed to go atop the bread, and that it was a bruschetta presentation. My god, as guys we are just hungry, not culinary sophisticates.
The tomato is the fruit/berry of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The species originated in western South America, but was cultivated by the Aztecs in Mexico, and was known as tomatl (“swelling fruit”). The conquering Spanish called them “tomate” (fat water), and they eventually made their way to Europe during the 16th century. Linnaeus coined the specific epithet lycopersicum in his 1753 Species Plantarum, where it literally means “wolf peach.” Many Europeans were at first skeptical about tomatoes, one problem being that the soft attractive fruit resembled a woman's breasts, therefore it was a sinful allure. Some also thought they must be poisonous because pewter plates reacted to the tomato's acidic juice.
|Walt Disney World record-setting tomato tree|
I have grown all kinds of tomatoes, with the most successful being cultivars grafted onto vigorous superior rootstocks. They cost a couple of dollars more to begin with but the output is two-to-three times more than seedling grown plants. I've never set any growing records, certainly nothing coming close to Mr. Graham's record in 1986 of a behemoth cultivar of 'Delicious' weighing in at 3.51 Kg (7 lbs. 12 oz.). The largest tomato plant grown was the cultivar 'Sungold' and it reached 19.8 m (65 ft.) in Lancashire, UK in 2000. A “tomato tree” in Florida at the Walt Disney World Resort's greenhouse set a Guinness World Record by producing over 32,000 golf-ball-size tomatoes and a total weight of 522 Kg (1,151 lbs.).
We remained well-behaved at the Chadsey table, unlike the 40,000 Spaniards at Brunol who throw 115,000 Kg (254,000 lbs.) of tomatoes at each other in the yearly La Tomatina festival. The visuals of hairy Spaniards in their speedos plastering each other can only be made possible with considerable alcohol consumption I should think. The origin of the festival is thought to have begun when some kids weren't allowed in a parade of enormous figures with big heads (Gigantes y Cabezudos), and in retaliation they grabbed tomatoes from a vegetable stall and threw them at the figures until the police broke things up. The following year the young people returned to the town hall square (on the same last Wednesday of August) and a tradition was born. The local council at first tried to ban El Dia de la Tomatina, but with no success, and I'm sure that today the economic boost from thousands of tourists will assure its continuation. You say “tomayto,” I say “tomahto”...
You say “potayto,” I say “potahto”... Our feast included cute little baby potatoes, Solanum tuberosum in the same Solanaceae family as the tomatoes. Potatoes are the world's fourth largest food crop – not just vegetable crop as the cucumbers – following corn, wheat and rice. Genetic testing has determined a single origin for potatoes in the area of southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia, and they were domesticated somewhere between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The English word potato comes from Spanish patata which is the name used in Spain. Native to the Andes, the Quechua, call them papas. There are about 5,000 potato varieties worldwide, with 3,000 of them found in the Andes alone. Jayne was delightfully surprised when I said that you could graft a tomato onto a potato rootstock and both plants would yield fruit. “Say, what?” I repeated while she processed it visually in her mind. I know because I was impressed when I came upon a photo at the beginning of my career in The Grafter's Handbook by R.J. Garner.
|Gallus gallus domesticus|
As I said, chicken was the main course. Gallus gallus domesticus to be precise, and it is one of the most widespread of any domestic animal with a world population of about 19 billion in 2011. Genetic studies indicate that the fowl originated in Asia with the clade (from Greek klados for “branch”) found in America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa coming from the Indian subcontinent. By the fifth century BC domesticated chickens had made it to Greece and into Egypt by the mid-15th century BC where it was known as “the bird that gives birth every day.” Chickens typically live 5 to 10 years, depending on the breed, with the world's oldest being a hen that lived to 16 before dying of heart failure, according to the Guinness World Records.
|Square watermelons from Japan|
Beautiful watermelon followed the main course, so we were back in the Cucurbitaceae family with Citrullus lanatus. One can successfully grow watermelon in western Oregon – and I have – but commercially they come from the warmer regions of eastern Oregon. The species was once thought to originate in South Africa but that was a different plant from the watermelon that Linnaeus saw and named, which is from northeast Africa. As with the cucumber, the watermelon is a special kind of berry, botanically known as a pepo. The seedless watermelon was initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists, and today they comprise 85% of total watermelon sales in the USA. My 12-year-old daughter can practically eat a whole watermelon by herself, and at 91% water I guess it does her no harm. Japanese farmers show their cleverness by growing square watermelons – they don't roll around in the refrigerator, plus they make better use of the refrigerator's space.
|Tobey and Jayne|
The Chadsey's went to a lot of trouble for our lunch and it was the best meal we had on our week-trip to Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. When we said our goodbyes out in the 95 degree heat at the train station I shook Tobey's hand and hugged Jayne – the best part – and I mumbled something about her being beautiful. Unfortunately for her she had to go home and do the dishes.