by Kathy Giuffre
We had another drought this summer. The backyard fence got dry rot and fell down. I am planning on getting it repaired probably pretty soon. In the meantime, it’s kind of propped up with cement blocks. I asked my neighbor Ken if maybe termites had eaten out the wooden fence posts, but he says that termites cannot survive in such a hostile climate as this. I know the feeling.
I planted a garden out back near where the neighbors on the other side dump out their meth-making effluvia. The apple tree out there died, but I’m not sure that was directly related to the meth run-off. The garden was pretty sickly, too, but there could have been other reasons for that – like the watering restrictions because of the drought.
The city utility company really clamped down on illicit waterers with warnings and then fines and then presumably drone strikes called in on anyone who violated the watering restrictions. A SWAT team cordoned off our block in late July and closed in on the house across the street. Ken says he thinks they busted another lab, but we both noticed how suspiciously lush their begonias had looked. The DEA sometimes has their reasons to look the other way, but the drought patrol doesn’t fuck around.
The drought regulations say that you can have a garden, but only if you water it by carrying buckets of water out to it from inside your house. This is called “handheld container watering.” It seems nonsensical at first because, really, what difference does it make if you get the water out of a hose in the backyard versus from a tap inside your house? You would think that. But about the third time you trip over the dog and spill the whole goddamn handheld container of water all over the kitchen floor, most people just say “the hell with it,” give up on the garden idea completely, and order in a pizza. No one wants to smell wet dog that much. The savings in water are apparently tremendous.
Fortunately for us, toting buckets of water around is what hillbillies do best.
But even with all of my handheld container watering, our zucchini plants never did much – just sat there while the weeds grew up around them. (There may be some connection here.) And the beets never got any bigger than eyeballs. We got four cucumbers and about half a dozen string beans. Ken said I shouldn’t eat any vegetables that tasted like meth, but I said how do I know what they taste like unless I eat them? Live and learn.
Anyway, the tomatoes did pretty well, mostly because I’ve given up trying for any tricky heirloom varieties and stick with some sort of industrial drought-and-disease-resistant hybrid that I buy already mostly grown at the garden center. Ken says that this is cheating, but I tell him that cheating and toting water in buckets is what hillbillies do best.
In late September, Ken told me about an urban garden where you pick your own and get sackfuls of produce on the cheap. Shopping is really more within my skill set, anyway. So with the help of about twenty cups of coffee, I got up early the next Saturday morning and went down to the patch of green near the rich-kid high school. All the rich-kid parents were there in matching LL Bean Saturday-Morning-At-The-Community-Garden-Before-Brunch-At-A-Bistro-Downtown outfits, lovingly choosing perfect organic produce. I started ripping shit out of the ground and ended up with about 30 pounds of yellow zucchini before you could say “Are the eggs in this hollandaise sauce free range?” It is possible that I had overdone it with the coffee. Saturday mornings can be tricky to calibrate exactly. But 30 pounds of yellow zucchini is no problem for me because pickling things in brine is what hillbillies do best.
Jonathan has gotten pretty stoic over the years of our marriage, but let’s face it: there’s only so much pickled zucchini that one man can eat. That’s why I couldn’t help noticing a hint of dismay in his voice when he told me, as I pulled the last jar of pickles out of the canner, that the weather report was calling for the first frost that night followed by a hard freeze all week. I’m not sure if he was blinking back tears or not.
We looked out at the garden filled with green tomatoes that would not have time to ripen. He sighed and we went out and picked them all. “Just promise me one thing, my darling,” Jonathan said, holding both my brine-wrinkled hands in his and looking deeply into my eyes. “No more fucking pickles.”
The Fifty Great Green Tomato Recipes book that I ordered online from CanningForTheApocalypse.com had a recipe for Green Tomato Butter that involved basically boiling the mashed up green tomatoes in a kettle with three times their weight in brown sugar. It seemed promising. I got out the kettle that I had left over from the homemade lye soap incident. Jonathan looked alarmed. “The lye just sterilizes it,” I said, reassuringly.
At the end of five hours of boiling, the Green Tomato Butter was the color and consistency of road tar on an August afternoon.
“Is it supposed to look like that?” Jonathan said.
“I’m sure it’s delicious,” I said. Some of it had gotten on my fingers and I was busy trying to pry them apart without pulling the skin off. “Just have a taste.”
“You first,” he said.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my hillbilly heritage, it’s that everything tastes better with pork. Using a very sturdy spoon, we smeared the goo on country-style pork ribs and then baked them at low heat for most of the afternoon. It was so good that I had to lie down on the floor for a while afterward (although, to be fair, that could have been the effects of the meth residue.)
“See?” I said to Jonathan from underneath the table. “Totally worth it.”
There is a moral to this story: Cook with pig. It’s what hillbillies do best.
Kathy Giuffre was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where her family goes back at least five generations. She is the author of “An Afternoon in Summer: My Year in the South Seas” and lives in Colorado with her husband and two sons.