Here on the Pacific Northwest coast, we practice zone denial pretty much all year long. We have no choice if we wish to play and picnic outside, which we do, through all sorts of weather.
And so it was two years ago this May, when a small group of my eldest daughter’s friends and I gathered at a small beach here in our seaside community, to celebrate the upcoming marriage of their friend Natasha, to fiancé Helen and her young son Jasper. The weather was unseasonably sharp and a bit breezy, but nothing we couldn’t outwit with layers of fleece and flannel, Blundstones and lap blankets.
As in many oceanfront towns and villages, our Salish Sea beach is a shapeshifting marine back garden extension of the many homes, cottages and camps that patchwork the Pacific Northwest section of the longest coastline of any country in the world. We know beach well, and we do it often.
On this particular day during the evening low tide, a picturesque assortment of logs, driftwood and dried seaweed framed a charming event space in the sand.
My daughter and I had assembled an assortment of our mismatched vintage blue and while linen, vintage periwinkle blue milk glass serving pieces, thrift store Bakelite cutlery, special event porcelain plates, my grandmother’s silver, garden lanterns, and the well worn and much-loved whitewashed maplewood picnic table that my husband and I had made when we were first married.
Indeed it was all very heavy and laborious, and for sure it was an event to pack and unpack the car and set-up at the beach, but isn’t that the point? Celebrating milestones and rituals are deliberate undertakings worthy of effort and some amount of inconvenience. Oftentimes, many hands make light work of it, and most times the coming together of many hands is an occasion in itself worth memorializing.
I remember the conversations that I had with my daughter and her friend Andrea over the course of several days, planning the menu, raiding the garden and the pantry, ironing the linen, and shopping at the fish market. I remember the happiness of her friends, so delighted that they had managed to trick the bridal-shower-averse and completely unsuspecting Natasha into meeting them at the beach for a sunset picnic.
I am privileged to know, after a half-century chasing the ‘things’ we all chase, that this is the life worth living. Growing, preparing and sharing food, creating occasion, making memories, and being of service to family, friends and community. Food gardening makes this possible for me; it is central to my existence.
I don’t mean full-time farming or even market gardening, rather front yard and container gardening in small but sufficient quantities, so I am able to small-batch preserve fruits, vegetables and condiments, and draw upon them daily and at will, to create occasion.
On this particular occasion, my dry-pantry and freezer-pantry provided almost everything I needed for a glorious beach garden picnic. The long late summer and early fall days and nights the previous year, spent peeling, chopping, drying, pickling, fermenting, sterilizing, canning, labeling and otherwise preserving home-grown and farm gate produce, were forgiven in a wash of creativity and contentment as I drew upon a wealth of beautiful ingredients to nurture friendships. There was little to actually prepare, as the heavy lifting had already been done.
My mother-in-law Maria, grew up on a farm in a small village in Europe. She offers two pieces of advice repeatedly, both wise. First — don’t resent the endless summer and fall days in the vegetable garden and over the canning pot, as winter brings much rest and simplicity. She refers of course, to the ease of meal planning assisted by a well stocked pantry. And two, even if you are tired, always make time to cook for friends and company, because you will have plenty of time to rest when you are dead. Indeed.
I have re-created the menu from the photos. I make note of those items homegrown and homemade only to illustrate the possibilities offered by a small food garden over the course of a short, zone 7 growing season.
Beach Garden Bridal Shower Picnic Menu
Local Spot Prawns
Homegrown Garlic Confit, Homegrown Herbs, Lemon
Home-preserved Lemon, Homegrown Dried Tomato, Homegrown Herbs
Selection of Local Goat and Cheep Milk Cheeses and Locally-cured Organic Meat
Selection of Local Artisanal Crackers, Sourdough Rolls, Baguette
Homemade Mixed Herb and Walnut Pesto
Homemade Quince Paste with Rosewater
Homemade Oven-roasted Interlaken Grapes, Maple Syrup
Homemade Damson Plum Pickles
Homemade Italian Plum Butter, Savoury Spices, Ginger, Lemon
Homegrown Zucchini Marmalade, Winter Citrus
Green Tomato Chutney
Apple, Dried Sour Cherry, Shallot, Garlic, Spices
Roasted Red Pepper, Cannellini Beans, Confit Garlic, Lemon
Homemade Aioli, Homegrown Herbs, Smoked Paprika
Home-pickled Spiced Pears
Ginger, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Star Anise, Lemon Grass
Home-pickled Sugar Baby Rind
Homegrown Watermelon, Honey, Moroccan Spices
Homemade Dill Pickles
Triple Dill, Triple Garlic, Homegrown Arapaho Pepper
Homegrown Tomato and Vegetables, Olives, Herbs and Spices
Cultivated Shiitake, Oyster, Chestnut, Cauliflower, Shimeji
Homegrown Cherry, Arapaho, Spicy Slice and Jalapeno Peppers, Garlic
Fresh Local Berries & Assorted Nuts
Homemade Meyer Lemonade
Local Rose, White and Red Wine
Chickory Coffee, Green Tea
Over the course of these past two very difficult years, the vintage linen and heirloom china has been resting patiently, quietly, on shelves, waiting to be called into service once again. The maplewood furniture hangs in the shadows of the eaves, gathering dust.
In one month or so, as restrictions lift and we gather in larger groups without masks and without fear, we will host a long overdue front yard garden party celebration for our son, whose university graduation ceremony was among the first to be cancelled during the early days of lockdown. He missed his gap travel year entirely, and will be attending medical school in the fall.
With due ceremony and much anticipation, I will clean the furniture, press the creases from the linen, conspire with our two daughters over garden-fresh menus and preparation, raid the pantry, welcome special friends and family, and call upon the embedded and inherited memory of these ceremonies and occasions to bless my son as he leaves our home officially to pursue his dreams.
I will of course be sending him home-canned tomatoes and everything and anything I can grow, cook, can, ferment, dry, and otherwise preserve. I will do so until I cannot.
it is well worth repeating that I am privileged to know, after a half-century chasing the things we all chase, that this is the life worth living. Growing, preparing and sharing food, creating occasion, making memories, and being of service to family, friends and community. Food gardening makes this possible for me; it is central to my existence.
No matter what life sends my way, I will stay connected to the people I have loved in big or small ways through growing, preparing and sharing food. It is indelible, irrevocable, perpetual; magnified over time and again in the everyday, pedestrian, or magnificent ceremony of it all.
I know this one thing. My food garden feeds my body and soul.
Natasha and Helen and Jasper celebrated their two year anniversary recently. Layla, Ross, Sara, Andrea, Suza, Sheereen and Gabrielle have returned to their homes across the country and across the world. They carry with them, memories of one beach garden picnic in May, and my good wishes for a beautiful life. I carry with me, delicious memories of their joy and happiness, and of sharing my food garden in a community garden at the edge of the sea.
Until next week, happy gardening!
Beach picnic photos: Forty Nine North Creative