Next Year Country: fried grasshoppers and chokecherries
When I moved back to Harlem, what was supposed to be my lawn looked to me to be a 40-acre grass-infested weed patch. In reality, huge as it seemed, my house sits on a mere two city lots with a large backyard. I was used to natural landscaping with nary a blade of grass to nurture. And danged if I was going to start. I cringed at the thought of spouting our limited water onto grass to mow to water to mow and so it goes.
The first year in my transformation plan, I set out strawberries to augment the raspberries which already had a good hold on the southeast corner. A friend gave me two apple trees, which I dug up, dragged home and dug in. The next year I planted, in the guise of naked sticks, chokecherries, juneberries and currants. For good measure, I added another apple tree. In addition I planted a salad garden, two herb gardens and a potato patch. Each year I add a few more flowers. Each year I thought, "Wait until next year. "
Last year was the first year I really enjoyed the fruits of my labor. Daily, I foraged, picked and harvested. Nightly I chopped, juiced, boiled and stirred. I stocked my shelves with jeweled jars of bounty. I stuffed my freezer with rhubarb and apples for pies. My herbs, laid out to dry on every flat surface, filled the air with exotic aroma.
This year my apple trees are hung with exactly two apples, probably bitter and wormy. Both the raspberries and strawberries are on strike, thanks to a late freeze, and refuse to do anything but look pretty. The same freeze seems to have smote the juneberries. The robins made short shrift of the smattering of fruit.
But, ah, the currants. Well, one bush. That one bush was laden with lovely ruby orbs. Others look good, green and lush, but are barren. Still, I harvested berries enough for currant jelly, and that is an accomplishment. Each small batch of jelly requires hours of picking the tiny fruit. The only difference between picking currants and huckleberries is that I don't have to climb the mountain to find the currants. With each, the taste is worth the effort.
Last Friday, while watering flowers and tomato plants, I noticed that the chokecherries had begun turning color. Yesterday I picked my first gallon and simmered the plump cherries for juice to make jelly and syrup. The up side is that the cherries are the largest I have ever seen. The down side is that they only grace the south side of three bushes.
Meanwhile, ardently battling me for my garden produce, is a plague of grasshoppers. I have a lovely crop of hoppers. Busy little buggers, they are. Raspberry leaves must be delicious because they chomped each leaf into a doily. Once they had decimated the raspberry leaves, the herd transferred to the hollyhocks, turning the huge leaves to lace. There must be a way I can capitalize on these frilly beauties. Make tablecloths or mantillas or something. Instead of Belgian Lace, I shall have "Grasshopper Lace. "
Now they want my chokecherries. Not the leaves. The fruit. So far we are two to one in the second round and I am ahead. That means for every two whole berries I pick, one on the bush is half chewed.
But maybe I am looking at this problem wrongly. After all, in some cultures, grasshoppers are a food, right? Their little bodies should be rather crisp and sweet, given what mine have been feeding on.
So if I mix melted chocolate, butter and marshmallow crème, stir in a handful of hoppers, voila, grasshopper crispy treats.
Or, why not dip a few in beer batter, drop them in the deep fryer and serve with chips.
Or baked in a casserole layered with potatoes, cheese and cream. Scalloped hoppers.
Or sprinkled on crusty dough with Italian sauce and mozzarella — pizza for that late night snack? The possibilities are endless.
Next year, I'll have a great garden. I feel it in my bones. I'm on the search for a wild plum tree.
The fruit is tiny but they make the best tart syrup you've ever slathered onto a pancake. After I find my plum tree, I'll scout for buffalo berries. They are almost impossible to harvest with their brutal thorns, but I'm stubborn. I may have the most unusual orchard, wild fruit most people wouldn't want, but, oh, how distinctively delicious.
Mmmm. Grasshopper fritters drizzled with chokecherry-mint sauce. Seconds, anyone?
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)