Leafy Mnemonics

As I mixed greens for a salad this morning, I felt the presence of two dear friends in the kitchen with me.  The mint and fava greens I chopped and dressed to top a dutch baby were strong mnemonics for Anya and Katie: memories called up of brief moments in the past when kismet brought together that green, that friend, and me.  Luckily those moments are tucked away in my mind forever. I smiled as I tossed the salad.

Mint Makes me Think of Anya

In the slanting light of our slant-floored kitchen, Anya pulled a bundle of mint from the fridge. One sprig went to feed her bunny, Pierre, and the rest she chopped to sprinkle in a salad.

I was gobsmacked. I had simply never considered mint this way.  Garnished on a fruity drink? Yes! Steeped for tea? Of course! Strung between my teeth from gnarly bites of a poorly executed watermelon feta hors d’oeuvre? Practically a cliché!

But added, raw, to a green salad? It was a wholly novel proposition for me.

I had always thought mint was a rather garish herb: too punchy to play well with other flavors, and ill-fitted to a savory dish. But Anya taught me mint can meld right in, not shouting over its companions, but making them all more vibrant by its presence.

Fava Greens Remind me of Katie

“Want to come over for lunch tomorrow?” I asked Katie. “I’m so sorry but I can’t! I’m going to an all-day cover crop workshop!”

This was the first time I had heard about cover crops – and it’s no surprise Katie taught me.  She is always investigating ways to build caring relationships between humans and the earth.

A few months later, when I began working at Conscious Kitchen, a non-profit dedicated to serving exclusively Certified Organic food in school meals, I dug into a rich academic literature on the history of organic agriculture in the United States. Julie Guthman’s Agrarian Dreams traced the story of organic in California, and described the journey to federal regulation which narrows in on restricting inputs. Organic certification requires only that farmers adhere to lists of what fertilizers and materials may and may not be applied to the farmland.  This is quite a contrast to the guiding principles of the founders of the modern organic movement, arranged around a set of practices and relationships between humans, plants, animals, and land.

One of organic farming’s hallmark practices is cover cropping: when farmers grow a particular plant for the benefit of the soil, rather than for the potential to harvest a yield. These plants, such as rye, clover, and fava, balance nutrients in the soil (often nitrogen) and prevent soil erosion.

When I saw fava greens for sale at Bi-Rite, a joyous and bougie grocery store in San Francisco, I was intrigued and elated to have a taste of what could be. Putting to delicious use a ‘byproduct’ part of a plant! A plant that nourishes not only my body but the soil it was grown in! A plant strongly associated with organic and healthy soil cover-cropping practices! And best of all, the greens were a softer, brighter cousin to spinach. I was grateful to have the privilege to purchase a near half pound for $5.63 and thought of Katie with every bite.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Beautifully written; I can see and taste your morning salad. And what nourishing friendships!


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