by Gina Catanzarite, Director, Teen Writer!
When I was a child, I read a chapter book called 100 Pounds of Popcorn by Hazel Krantz.
Written in 1961, it tells the tale of a brother and sister who find a 100-pound bag of popcorn in their neighborhood. They offer to return it to the company listed on the label but are told to just keep it. What ensues is a summer of adventure as they and their friends find ways to share and sell popcorn, ranging from hosting a basic front-yard popcorn stand to staging a grand performance for a neighborhood audience that would, of course, want to buy popcorn to enjoy during the show.
Half-a-century later, I find myself experiencing my own 100-pounds-of-food summer adventure.
I have never had a “green thumb” but, on a lark this past May, I planted some tomatoes and basil on my backyard deck. Those first plants were only a few inches tall and I really didn’t have much hope for them beyond perhaps growing enough ingredients for a single Margherita pizza.
Just like those kids in the book who found it increasingly challenging to think up ways to use their popcorn windfall, I too am having trouble keeping up with the windfall of food being gifted to me by Mother Nature!
The tomatoes are tall as corn stalks. Each morning begins with watering the crops and harvesting another couple dozen tomatoes, some as tiny as gumballs and others the size of plums, but all of them red and juicy and bursting with flavor.
As for the basil, well . . . remember that scene in Forest Gump when one character talks of his family’s shrimping business and all of the dishes that can be made with shrimp ? Substitute the word “shrimp” with “pesto” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what lunch and dinner menus have looked like in my home!
Weekends consist of snipping enormous branches of basil and then spending the next few hours making pesto. I use a lot in recipes for the week but there’s so much that I freeze it too. I barely have room in my freezer for anything else because of the many stacks of ice cube trays filled with pesto!
My best dish so far has been pesto on toasted Mancini’s bread with a plump ball of Burrata cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil and red pepper flakes.
I must have been just 6 or 7 when I first read 100 Pounds of Popcorn but even then I recognized that the story was never about the popcorn. It was about how industrious and creative those neighborhood kids were, and how much fun they had that summer coming up with ways to connect with each other and with their neighbors as they shared and enjoyed their bounty.
In that same spirit, the best thing by far about my own summer as a “farmer” has been sharing it all with family and friends. I’ve visited so many folks to drop off containers of tomatoes; I’ve enjoyed backyard gatherings with neighbors while feasting on pesto, chicken, and tomato salads; I’ve been thrilled to receive text messages from folks who share pictures of their own recipes made with the ingredients I grew.
I’ve also found a deeper peace in simply tending to the container garden on my deck. Distressing news reports, worrisome personal problems, deadlines at work . . . they all fade into the background when I fill my little watering can and putter around my deck, talking to the crops as they get their morning drink.
I think of those kids with their hundred pounds of popcorn.
I think of the hundreds more tiny green tomatoes and the basil still growing on my deck, promising many more meals before the autumn frost sets in.
I think of that old saying: When you have more than you need, you do not build a higher wall. You build a longer table.
And I know that my humble little foray into farming this summer has brought me a lot of joy, feeding my soul far more than my appetite.
Gina Catanzarite, owner/operator of Arania Productions, and an award-winning television producer, author, media consultant and teacher who has worked both nationally and locally in her fields since 1987.