The Joy of Home Winemaking

Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
August 1997

Begin the Begonia, August 8

Geese Gaggling, August 15

Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes, August 29

Title of the Month: Fly Pushing

1997: | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec |

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Begin the Begonia
Friday, August 8

About 20 years ago I was visiting the grandmother of a friend in Point Richmond, California (Bay Area). On her lovely old oak dining table was an enormous plant with huge leaves. The tops were a rich dark green and the underside a purply red. I was enchanted. Mrs. Dornan graciously gave me a slip of the plant to take home. She said it was a beefsteak begonia.

Since then, the beefsteak begonia has been with me through thick and thin. It liked El Cerrito and the permanent fog bank. It tolerated too much light in my San Francisco flat, and not enough in the Daly City place. It traveled in the back of a Ryder truck when I moved to Minneapolis back in the early '80s and adapted to cold, dry winters and hot, moist summers.

All along the way, people asked for slips and I cheerfully gave them, wanting other people to enjoy the plant as well. It's easy to care for, easy to start. The only thing it doesn't like is direct sunlight — other than that, it's really hard to kill. The leaves are a bit brittle; they break off or get damaged. But who cares? It will happily grow new ones. Every few years or so, it has tiny white orchid-like flowers. It has been a nice plant, but up till recently, was never as magnificent as its mother.

Then I got the job here at the library. The building has windows but another building has been built around it. I sit in bright fluorescent lights all day. To remind me of the living world I brought in a slip of the begonia. It loved the fluorescent lights. The leaves got bigger — nearly five inches across. You could tell this plant started out in the understory of a rain forest somewhere. The one at home seems almost pathetic. More people asked for slips — students, visitors, co-workers.

Several months ago, one of our reference people decided the public area of the library needed plants to warm it up a bit. I donated several, including, of course, a clone of the beefsteak begonia. Unencumbered by boundaries, it has spread over one of the study tables in Reference until it has become nearly as large as the original back in Point Richmond. About once every two weeks, someone asks about it; I encourage them to take slips to keep the plant under some kind of control.

A month ago, someone who works at Bachman's (a local nursery) asked about it, and I gave her a slip. A couple weeks later, someone from the Horticulture department saw it and asked for a slip. Just now, a new student worker asked for a slip.

Currently you find mention of this plant only in older books about house plants. It went out of style in the early sixties. But I have a feeling that within a year or so, I'm going to start seeing it in nurseries or on the Victory Garden show or some such; and then I'll have to wonder: is this a baby of one of those slips I gave away?

I'm sure Mrs. Dornan is long gone. Wish I had a way to tell her how far her generosity has traveled. I'm sure she'd get a big kick out of it.

Hope all is well out there. Happy Birthday to Karen, Rebecca, Doug, and Hope. Take good care of yourselves.


Geese Gaggling
Friday, August 15

Spotted a gaggle of Canadian geese in the State Fair parking lot this morning. They were muttering about Louisiana and Barbados as far as I could tell. That's it. The State Fair is next week (they let us peasants at the U park there for a small fortune when the fair isn't running — when the fair is running, we are on our own). Some corn dogs, an ear of corn, everything on a stick, a few cows and quilts and wham — winter. Summer's over.

Had my first tomato sandwich of the year earlier this week. Ideally this should simply be fresh home-grown tomatoes on utterly fresh San Francisco sourdough bread, but fresh home-made or Mill City Peasant bread will do. I have a shameful secret in that I like to add mayonnaise as well. What can I say, once a Californian, always a Californian, at least in some matters.

Hug someone you love,


Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes
Friday, August 29

I've just learned that my poem, "Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes," has been nominated for a Rhysling award! It was published in Serve It Forth: Cooking with Anne McCaffrey, a collection of recipes and food-related writings by science fiction and fantasy authors, and is reprinted here for your viewing pleasure.

Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes
(for Karen Schaffer, Laurie Winter, and Eleanor Arnason)

First, get your tomatoes
this is not always as easy as it seems
if you are going to go to all that trouble
they might as well be good ones:
red, full of flavor, perfectly ripe
not a lot of bruises
grow them yourself
or get them from a farmers' market:
Big Boy, Big Girl, Roma, Royal Chico
Super Beefsteak, Early Pick, Lady Luck, Rutgers,
I've canned them all
just be sure they're good

pick a cool evening to do this if you can
cool evenings and tomatoes rarely go together
think of your pioneer grandmothers
indian grandmothers
slave grandmothers
immigrant grandmothers,
putting up whole gardens for families of ten
and the hired hands

think of winter and canned tomatoes from the store
tasting of tin
purse your lips in disgust
roll up your sleeves
and get to work
(a friend taught me to do this
long ago
when I was young and poor but had plenty of tomatoes
she put my tomato destiny in my own hands
as well as my peach, pear, applesauce and jelly destiny)

make sure you have enough jars, lids, rings and time
read through the instructions
(you know what your memory is like)
then fire up the canner and go for it

it's still the same hot water bath
taking too much room on the stove
a battered saucepan for scalding lids
bigger saucepan for scalding tomatoes
to make them easier to peel

then it's peel and core, my girl, peel and core
chop those tomatoes down
slip off the skins, keep the water hot

paring knife nicks, seeds spurt out
acids sting my skin
adds to the general redness

mere mortals should clear the kitchen
order out pizza—if they want to eat
it's like a marathon:
sweat, determination, endurance
going for the long distance—
you have to remember to drink water
so you don't dehydrate

as I go along, lift hot jars, dump water
push in the tomatoes, wipe the rims
leave a space for expansion
try to guess how much is enough
when I tighten down the lids
as I go along
I philosophize
on the meaning of life
meditate on the smile of my grandmother
female bonding
female machisma
think about the farm women doing four times as much as this
every day all summer
and gasp, shake my head
I'll never understand how they did it

while the first batch boils I get ready for the next
try to stockpile against time and weariness
shift from one sore foot to another
wad up the newspapers, wipe up flooding juice
save skins for the compost

I glance out the kitchen window and spot moving lights in the sky
an airplane, I think,
then as the steam rises around my head I realize
there are no flight patterns out my kitchen window
my hands clench, I think: UFOs, Flying Saucers,
aliens, green monsters
tentacled sentient creatures who need women to:
can tomatoes?
The heck with them. Let them can their own tomatoes.

the kitchen's a mess
I've burned myself twice
used a band-aid
scalded the inside of my arm with steam
but there are the first seven jars
and one by one
goes the beat of my heart as they seal down

take that, alien invaders

I work on into the night—not talking much—
hit a plateau
where it seems I'll never see the last bushel done
but finally
it's over
last jar is sealed
I dump the five gallons of hot water down the drain
so the canner won't rust
wipe down the counters
clean off the stove top
touch once more all the women
everywhere, even outerspace aliens,
who put something aside for winter

Tomato Tomato Tomato Flying Saucer

Can some tomatoes, folks!

Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
1997: | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec |

| 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | Current Month |

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Copyright © 1997 by Terry A. Garey.