A Bountiful Harvest

Kathrine Leone Wright - Boca Raton, Florida
Entered on October 3, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe the harvest is all.

My mother lived, for a time, on a farm in southwest Colorado, years before the community became the beautiful ski resort town it is today. Her life, like her mother’s before her, was fashioned by what the earth and its animals produced. Even though she eventually moved from that lovely farmland to the city, the harvest stays with her.

Each year, my mother took my little sister and me picking: tomatoes, bing cherries, apples, peaches, and vegetables of all kinds. What we couldn’t pick ourselves, we purchased by the bushel from farmers who lived at the edge of the Salt Lake valley. We’d bring our bounty home, the sharp smell of tomatoes overtaking the car, and leave the baskets in the carport to keep the produce cool and dry until we were ready to can them, or “put them up” as we called it.

The tomatoes were my favorite, best eaten sliced and smothered with ground pepper. The cucumbers, I simply washed and bit into whole. The pickle-sized ones were seeded, crunchy, and especially tasty. And I fondly recall many desserts of cold milk poured over fresh peach slices.

Canning was a major event as we helped my mother with sanitizing mason jars in a big black kettle, boiling the lids in a saucepan, pitting cherries, and preparing the paraffin to set above the preserves. As we worked, she’d tell us stories about her grandparents’ dairy farm, the time she fell off a horse, and other more off-color stories that are now family lore. We put up pickles, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, jams, and jellies, and, oh, how wonderful the house smelled for days from our efforts. And when the plum jelly failed to set one year, we renamed it syrup and poured it over Saturday morning pancakes. Canning was our succulent genealogy lesson.

About a year after I moved to Florida, I found a farm near my house where I could take my children to pick strawberries. Running up and down the rows with my two toddlers, picking the ripest, best berries and gathering them in baskets, I felt connected to my mother’s farm-girl heritage, to the land, and to the order of all things that require tending to thrive. The farm sold its “pick your own” operation two years later, and now that land bears luxury homes. Also part of the order of things, I know.

This year, after an overly wet spring yielded a smallish crop in northern Utah where my mother lives, she lucked into two precious bushels of tomatoes to accompany the peppers and onions she had grown in her own backyard. The salsa my mother and sister made tastes like nothing else in this world.

It’s late September now; the harvest moon has come and gone, but there’s a box of homemade salsa on its way to me in Florida. There’s also solace in knowing that these gardens are built on continuance—that soon enough, we’ll have another harvest to draw from. And next season, when I teach my children how to make cherry butter, I’ll add an extra helping of cinnamon, and a few new stories. I’ll make the recipe my own.

Kathrine Leone Wright is editorial director for an advertising agency. After obtaining an MFA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University, she moved with her family back to their native Utah. They recently attempted a first garden of their own, with plenty of tomatoes.