Lovely leaves, long memories

Our vegetable associations seem to be strong predictors of food choices over generations. This is absolutely not a scientific study. It's my report on visitor reactions to the cold weather crops growing in the garden at work. Something of an oral history with added fiber and vitamins compiled by a chilled observer with an artistic eye.

The food garden has been a complementary color feast for two months. After Halloween the last of the peppers, eggplants, watermelons, and tomatillo vines were cleared out of the garden. The loofahs were dragged away hollering and kicking.

Enter the cole transplants. Raise your hand if you thought your side order was "cold slaw" until after high school. Admit it if you thought it was like ye ole cole slaw. Thanks for being a merry old soul.

Elderly visitors to the garden when told they were looking at mustard greens said they had eaten way too much of that during World War II. Their reactions to the beautiful leaves of turnips and beets were similar. To them, cold weather vegetables brought back memories of very hard times. "We ate dandelions, too."

As we all know, Marsala is the new Radiant Orchid, and Swiss chard is the new kale (which was the new arugula back before that). We are hip. We are trendy. We are leafy. We are pushing back against a couple generations of cruciferous veggie avoidance.


  • Unknown Liska ancestor gets a root vegetable in his Ukrainian stocking, and feels immense gratitude for life's abundance.
  • 1930s Rutabaga becomes family joke Christmas gift tradition for fifty years.
  • 1955 Sauerkraut is such an early smell and taste memory I can't imagine holidays without it.
  • 1958 Try a radish. Ick. Stick to carrots.
  • 1960's Mom makes irrational kitchen endeavors of wilted lettuce with bacon and corned beef with cabbage. No harm no fault.
  • Mom and Dad decide I must swallow a Brussels sprout before I can watch "Peter Pan" with Mary Martin and Cyril Richard on the black and white television, about 1965. Although I generally wish them both a very happy afterlife they did not believe in, maybe a higher power could have them choke down one of those slimy puppies once a year.
  • 1966 At Camp Fire Girl camp I learn to eat canned spinach with vinegar, stewed tomatoes, pass to the right.
  • 1970ish Jolly Green Giant and Clarence Birdseye move America beyond Anita Bryant's frozen concentrated orange juice toward boil-in-a-bag broccoli and cauliflower existence with cheese sauce. These vegetables had NEVER existed before.
  • 1975 Perfectly rational people begin making salads and quiches with spinach, a fictional cartoon vegetable. This frequently happens in pods called "fern bars".
  • Late Seventies color trend--I had avocado accents in my home before I ever tasted an avocado.
  • 1980 Kohlrabi space exploration vehicular vegetable probes land in Omaha, Nebraska backyard. 
    Kohlrabi has landed
  • 1990s Sister insists turnips are edible.
  • 2000+ Youngsters have no memory of ancestors surviving on cabbage, and fall under the foodie spell of Kohlrabiens. Cults develop around broccoli.
  • Late 2014 Mashed potatoes with turnips and marinated artichokes satisfy taste buds. Greek yogurt and cream cheese help.
  • SEE ATTACHED home turnip bonus activity!!***(-:) 

2010: Brussels Sprouts
"Turns out that when you roast them (with bacon), they taste less like a punishment."


*** Reserve top of turnip or other root vegetable. Put it in a jar or vase with a little bit of water. Be properly amazed when a tiny island paradise appears.

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip...

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.”

― Tom RobbinsJitterbug Perfume

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Kathleen said...

I still love spinach with vinegar. (And melted butter and pepper.)

Collagemama said...

Vinegar or lemon juice.

seana graham said...

Vegetables just seem to be generally better now than they were when I was a kid, and I don't think that's just more discerning taste buds speaking. I think it's partly because people aren't under the impression that they have to be boiled to a lifeless pulp, and because they realize that a lot of different seasoning is crucial. Of course, I am sure I have friends here in Santa Cruz who eat steamed vegetables with nothing else on them and think them divine.

Thanks for the rutabaga linkage.

And, after watching the not especially exciting Peter Pan done recently, I happened to find through Slate magazine that the classic Peter Pan is available complete and uninterrupted on YouTube. It holds up, although I think they colorized it.

Collagemama said...

Seana, great point. The crunch factor is major!