Patsy Porco

Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

Plant Sex

In Humor, Sex on August 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Sex confuses me. Not human sex. My husband and I have a son, so we figured out the basics on that.

Not animal sex, either … except for those species that reproduce without a mate, through parthenogenesis, also known as virgin birth. That’s just crazy.

Plant sex, however, is beyond my understanding, even though I took a botany course in college. What I mainly remember from that class is getting accused of smoking pot with other students during our break. We were smoking a plant, but it was the tobacco plant, not the marijuana plant. (This was in the 1980s when smoking was allowed in the hallways. Ashtrays were outside of every classroom.  Oh, the good old days, when everyone wasn’t so uptight.)

I also recall learning that there are female and male plants. There are also some plants that have both male and female flowers. Then there are plants with perfect, or bisexual, flowers (perfect = bisexual? There’s food for thought), containing both male and female organs. Bees, insects, birds, bats, or the wind take pollen from the male and deposit it in the female. Regardless of what kind of flowers a plant has, in order for a vegetable (called fruit) to grow from the flower, plant sex must occur.

I have a friend whose asparagus plants weren’t producing vegetables. She researched the subject and discovered that the male plants and female plants weren’t getting together. She then instructed her husband to take a Q-Tip and rub it inside all of the plants’ flowers. His hand-pollination worked. She got asparagus. The irony is that she couldn’t pick the vegetables that her husband helped create because you have to let those plants mature for a few years before harvesting them. The bottom line was that they bought their asparagus that year.

I once heard a priest tell us that his mother always wanted peony bushes along both sides of her front walkway. His father dutifully planted peonies. While the plants flourished, no flowers appeared. His mother figured out that the males and females weren’t mixing it up, so his father dug up every other plant on each side of the walk and moved them each to the opposite side. The next year, there were flowers. (I think the lack of flowers had to do with how they were planted, but I kept mum when I saw him.)

This year, I’m faced with a similar situation with my eggplant plant. It has lovely purple flowers, but no fruit (vegetable, actually). I looked up eggplants and found that they have perfect (bisexual) flowers, containing both male and female organs. Even though they have all they need to produce fruit, there’s still a chance that they could use a little help. (Really? You just know that the male part won’t put down the remote for even one second.) Therefore, humans need to use a fine brush, a Q-Tip, or his/her breath to get things stirring … but sex is most fruitful between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. Occasionally, afternoon nookie works, too.

So, if I want to grow eggplants, I’m going to have to get up early and assist in eggplant sex. Apparently, even bisexuals don’t have sex all the time.

eggplant 1

Kale, Quinoa, Edamame, Broccoli Rabe, and Cauliflower

In food, Humor on October 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm

The first time I met kale, it appeared as a decoration under my meal on a plate at a fancy restaurant. Nobody even suggested that it was edible. This was 30 years ago, though, back when people ate for enjoyment, not sophistication. Now kale is served everywhere and people purport to love its bitter taste, texture, and credit score. A few years ago, quinoa (the seeds of a grain crop) became all the rage. I think that was because only a few people knew how to pronounce its name correctly, which gave them the right to sneer at those who didn’t. Quinoa was probably popularized by the descendants of the people who decided how to pronounce the names of the cities and towns in Massachusetts. The founders dropped syllables and consonants and altered emphasis so that only natives would know how to say the names, therefore ensuring them ample sneering opportunities. Compounding Massachusetts-residents’ unwholesome pronunciation is the otherworldly accent employed by residents of Boston and its outlying areas. My family and I were once in Boston and we asked two men walking nearby where we could find a certain store. One of them said that he didn’t know, since he didn’t live in Boston-proper. I asked him where he lived and he said, “Not sure.” My husband, son, and I looked at him (gaped, actually). He and his friend stared back. “You’re not sure where you live?” I asked. He then took his index finger and rubbed it horizontally up and down over his lips as he reiterated, “Not sure,” only this time it came out as “North Shore.”

Anyway, as they say (with a different pronunciation in Massachusetts, no doubt), I digress. A number of years ago, I heard a morning talk-show host expounding on the wonders of edamame (immature soy beans in their pods). According to the pretty, perky host, there was no better, fat-free, delicious snack to be had. For a brief spell, edamame was the “it” vegetable, but its reign lasted for about as long as it took for people to learn how to say it. Now it appears in stir-fry recipes (along with its relative, tofu, which enjoyed its own glory days many years earlier), but you don’t see people wild-eyed and fevered over it. Kale will probably meet the same fate, sooner rather than later, I hope. Broccoli rabe and cauliflower are another story; these are two formerly ordinary vegetables that rapidly ascended the food ladder. Not long ago, broccoli rabe became the vegetable of the posh and wannabes, which perplexed my Italian relatives, who have been eating it forever. When I first tasted it, before it was well-known, I shuddered at its bitterness. Not long after, bitter was in style. Any dinner party worth its centerpiece featured the wretched vegetable. Over the last few years, broccoli rabe has lost its panache and has been relegated back to Italian dinner tables, where there is so much food that nobody (except perhaps your sister-in-law) questions why you didn’t help yourself to any. (If you are asked, tell your sister-in-law that it was the first thing that you served yourself and, because it was so delicious, you ate it first, and licked the plate.)

As for cauliflower, it, too, has been around forever. However, its blandness used to be disguised with mouth-watering cheese or cream sauces. Now, inexplicably, it’s appreciated for itself. Cauliflower is easily enough avoided on a platter of crudités, but when it shows up as a roasted side dish, there’s no sidestepping it. Unless there happens to be a dog with an undiscerning palate under the table, I’d advise resorting to childhood methods: cut it up into tiny pieces and spread them around your plate so that it looks like you’ve eaten most of it. You could also be an adult about it and actually eat it. That way, you’ll be able to discuss its impact on your taste buds using the inappropriate adjectives favored by wine aficionados.

So, what’s the next must-serve-or-talk-about-first item on the menu? There are only so many animals, and since most of them have been discovered, it’s doubtful that a new meat will surface. Therefore, gourmands and their imitators should be trend-spotting in the grain and vegetable categories. My money’s on an ancient grain with an exotic name, but parsnips are also high on my shortlist. What exactly is a parsnip, you ask? North Shore.

On Beauty, Slugs, and Homeopathy

In Humor on May 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Today, while cutting flowers in my garden, I found a pale green inchworm on a peony and I was thrilled. Later in the day, a rabbit ran across my lawn and again I was delighted. If I had seen a slug on the peony and a rat on my lawn, however, my reactions would have been very different. I wonder if there’s a parallel universe where slugs and rats are preferable to inchworms and rabbits?

I often think about why some animals are preferred to others—why we recoil from some, eat others, and keep certain ones as pets. I have also pondered beauty. We’ve all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I’ve witnessed this many times. One person will think a celebrity is beautiful while another will disagree. But neither of those people would call the celebrity ugly; well, they might, to make a point, but they wouldn’t truly mean it. They would actually mean that the celebrity doesn’t meet their criteria for beauty. What one person perceives as human beauty does not always mesh with the opinion of others. It might be due to one preferring blondes to brunettes, or brunettes to redheads. It could be related to what a person was raised to believe was beautiful. So why doesn’t anyone prefer a slug to an inchworm? Or a rat to a rabbit?

Speaking of nature, the other day, or maybe a few weeks ago, when I was driving to who-knows-where, I heard a radio ad for a homeopathic natural supplement that improves one’s short-term memory within 60 minutes. I wish I recalled the name of it, but I hadn’t taken the supplement, so just knowing about it did me no good. The ad got me thinking, though. In the recent past, whenever I heard the word, “homeopathic,” I would think of natural remedies. However, I looked the word up not long ago and learned that homeopathic remedies, if given to a healthy person, would cause symptoms of the disease that sick people are trying to get rid of. My brain shorted out when I read that. If people knew what homeopathic meant, I doubt they’d brag to their friends that they only used homeopathic drugs. I would venture to say that many people think homeopathic remedies are natural remedies. And anything natural is good, right?

Socrates might disagree with you. He was sentenced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock, a poisonous plant. There are plenty of poisonous plants found in nature. I would think that the perfect murder would involve giving someone a freshly brewed cup of hemlock that one grew in one’s garden alongside tea leaves. Persuading a jury that you mixed up the plants would be a cinch. This makes me wonder why our society looks on natural remedies with such a favorable eye. The medical profession is aware that certain herbs and supplements can be detrimental if taken willy-nilly or in tandem with prescribed medicines. Even grapefruit juice can interfere with certain medicines, and what’s more natural than grapefruit?

Today, I was filling pots with soil and my friend called. When I told her I was gardening, she asked me if I had lost my mind since I had already contracted ivy poisoning twice this year and it was only May. The outbreaks were severe and required heavy doses of Prednisone. I reassured her that my gardening endeavors today were pot-related. She thought that it was interesting that I was growing marijuana and asked me to tell her where the plants were located.

While this exchange was in jest—take note FBI— it also made me think about the beneficial plants in nature. Just as with beauty, opinion varies. I love string beans, but my husband doesn’t. My inlaws salivate over broccoli rabe while I would use it as a poison, in place of hemlock. Certain fruits and vegetables are universally appreciated like apples, bananas, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, lettuce, and potatoes. Others, like lychee, prickly pears, plantains, rhubarb, beets, rutabagas, turnips, and spinach are as much disliked as liked. The same goes for marijuana. Some don’t like it and some do—especially when they’re stoned. What’s not to like when one is stoned? Hell, even broccoli rabe is appealing. (Not that I would know this from experience, law-enforcement agents.)

So, we’re back where we started: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, except when it comes to slugs and rats. Although, I’m sure some will disagree with that statement. To them I say, “How’s the weather in your parallel universe?”

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