Friday, September 30, 2011

My dear Austin,

You know me well. I was at Ayers Creek Farm today. For the last day of September and the eighth day of Autumn, it was beautiful. And, the temperature your father calls “perfect”. I arrived at what I consider late, 11:10 am. I drove too quickly up the drive and past the barn kicking dust into the air. First, I heard Tito’s high pitched bark holler “slow down!”. Then I saw Anthony’s glare at my speed, until he recognized the van. I slowed, stopped and opened the door for Tito. He jumped in under my legs and snaked around and onto my lap and covered my face in licks that would have made an anchovy at home.

Carol had laid a string of yellow crates in the tomato rows. A staged field induces more focused work than not. I could tell Carol was ready to work more and talk less today. I thoroughly bent her ear the previous week. We talked about life, death, babies, and lilacs. That happens when I have been away from the farm. Today, we accomplished the same amount of work in half the amount of time. One hour in the tomato rows and ten crates of tomatoes. Four Striped German, five Astiana and one of mixed seconds. The mixed seconds are on the dining room table. They’ll be in the winter stews when you get home.

Lunch was a ceci and shrimp stew. Bread and cheese. Tomatoes. And fresh black-eyed peas. I found a container of them in the fridge while making lunch and added them to the table. The last time I had fresh black-eyed peas was when I visited Gran in Birmingham, after Grandad died, before we moved her out here.

On the southwest side of Birmingham there is an old farmers market and produce exchange. Most of the buildings are empty save one. The one was filled with fresh pressed sorghum, crowder peas, black-eyed peas, field peas, watermelons, real peaches. Sweet potatoes, green peanuts, pecans and okra. And one hundred percent cane syrup. My love for your dad is deep enough that cases of Cane Patch sit in the basement. But the truth is, fresh, one hundred percent cane syrup is a most complex, beautiful and superior syrup.

After lunch we picked tomatillos. It is a job best done on an empty stomach or by a cadre of pre-toddlers crawling through the dense thickets of self sowing small tomatillos. The little fruits are green and purple and wrapped in papery husks. They smell like citrus and honey. More often than not the ones you’ll find in the stores and markets are harvested too soon. Imagine, growing up eating green, hot house ripened tomatoes and not knowing the taste of one, ripened by the summer light, until you are an adult. It seems every year I taste things for the first time. Maybe the language in my mouth has a more expansive vocabulary and the grammar is more complete.

The shelling beans are being picked and the bean room hosts stacks of dutch bullet, black turtle, black basque, zolfino, and the most perfect borlotto. Anthony and Carol are very satisfied with the borlottos this year. The yield is high, the conformation is perfect. The color stunning. Some are ivory with red speckles and some are burgundy with ivory speckles. They look like the eggs of little bean birds. And the sound of them would be a joy to watch on your face. Your ears hear things that are lost on mine. Anthony ran his hands through the collections and said “you can hear how much moisture that has left the seed” and I wished your ears could hear what I could hear only around the edges.